Governors the country over are issuing stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. These measures have helped slow the contagion but have wreaked havoc on the country’s economy. Lawmakers are currently drafting emergency measures that help mitigate these economic damages while keeping their constituents protected.
In that vein, last Tuesday, April 21, the Massachusetts State Senate approved a bill that will allow virtual notarization for legal documents in the state. Similar laws have passed in 40 other states to compensate for social distancing orders amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
How the new bill works
Current Massachusetts law requires a notary to witness the signing of legal documents to protect Massachusetts residents from fraud. This practice is nearly impossible with current social distancing orders. This new bill would allow for notaries to virtually witness these signings, later notarizing the document through the mail.
The Massachusetts House of Representatives is currently reviewing the bill and debating how to secure these documents as they travel back and forth through the mail. These disagreements have kept the bill separate from other relief bills as lawmakers debate.
An uptick in estate planning
Many law firms across the country have seen an uptick in U.S. residents looking to draft wills, estate plans and other end-of-life directives. Studies before the pandemic estimate that only 37% of Americans have a will or estate plan.
Massachusetts residents looking to amend their estate plans or draft them for the first time would find the virtual notarization bill particularly important. All these documents require notarization before a family member’s wishes can be legally fulfilled. Without notarized instruction, all property will enter probate upon the death of a family member. Virtual notarization is vital for families facing increased health concerns amid the pandemic.
End-of-life planning with a local attorney
Massachusetts residents concerned about how COVID-19 may impact their family’s wellbeing may want to consider drafting an estate plan or will with a local attorney. Though it may be some time before this new bill reaches Governor Baker’s desk, families can stay on top of their estate plan by working with a lawyer today.