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Thinking Outside the Box: How to Execute your Trust during COVID-19

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How Talbot Law Group is seeing clients, getting documents signed and notarized, all while keeping safe social distancing.


In these unusual times of social distancing and concerns about safety we at Talbot Law Firm are committed to helping our clients move forward with their estate plans.


With law offices and the California court system closed, families across the state are calling us to find out how to complete their estate plans.  In addition, families are calling who want to begin new estate plans and are seeking ways to meet and begin a conversation about their needs.


The challenge facing both attorneys and clients is how to move forward in these unprecedented times given California’s estate planning formalities. Let’s talk about the potential obstacles and their solutions.  


Traditionally, estate planning has always taken place face to face in lawyers’ offices. With social distancing and closed offices as a given, what are the alternatives? How do we move forward? Since we can no longer meet in conference rooms we are having phone conferences and using video platforms such as Facetime and Zoom to communicate with our clients.  


The next question involves estate plan documents – how to send them and how to sign them. Draft documents can be sent by e-mail and/or the U.S. Postal Service. But getting those documents signed and witnessed while observing social distancing requires some creative solutions. 


In California wills must be signed both by the person making the will and two disinterested witnesses. Any time you execute a Revocable Trust in California, you will also execute an accompanying Will. This is called the “Pour Over Will.” The person making the will is called the “testator”. The two witnesses must witness the testator signing the will and affirming that the signature is his/hers, and that the testator is of sound mind and not influenced by duress, undue influence or fraud. See section (c) (1) of California Probate Code 6110:


(c) (1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), the will shall be witnessed by being signed, during the testator’s lifetime, by at least two persons each of whom (A) being present at the same time, witnessed either the signing of the will or the testator’s acknowledgment of the signature or of the will and (B) understand that the instrument they sign is the testator’s will.


Typically, attorneys and their office staff act as witnesses, but in this time of closed offices and reluctant social interactions, parties involved may agree to meet outside (such as in their driveway) and bring their own pens.   


Trust amendments, Advance Health Care Directives, and Durable Powers of Attorney are a somewhat different matter. Trust amendments and Powers of Attorney do not need to be witnessed in California, but to authenticate the documents they need to be notarized. If real property is used to fund a trust then notarized deeds must also be recorded. Law offices such as ours that specialize in estate planning usually have in house notaries. Matthew Talbot is not only the Owner and Partner, but also a notary. Mobile notary services are sometimes employed, and in either case both parties can agree to meet at an outdoor venue and use precautions to remain safe.  


With all of these challenges our firm remains committed to our clients. We are moving ahead despite the problems created by the Covid-19 pandemic. If you are a California resident and have questions about estate planning documents such as the Revocable Trust, Will, Power of Attorney, or Advance Health Care Directive, contact our office at 925-322-1795 to schedule an appointment.

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2 Responses
  1. As Executor, you have a responsibility as the administrator of the decedent’s estate to protect the best interests of the beneficiaries.