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Estate Planning Continues Amid State Closures

As of Thursday, March 19, 2020, Governor Wolf ordered all non-life sustaining businesses to close, including legal services. Stock and Leader’s doors may be locked, but the estate planning attorneys at Stock and Leader stand ready to assist you, albeit remotely.

What this means for you:

An individual wishing to create a Will, Power of Attorney or Advanced Health Directive during these uncertain times can still do so by calling Stock and Leader’s main telephone number (717-846-9800) or by emailing an attorney directly to coordinate a date and time for a teleconference or video-conference. Email our Estate Planning team directly: Thomas Shorb, Esq., MacGregor Brillhart, Esq., and Kristen McGuire, Esq.

What this means for us:

In order to remain compliant with Governor Wolf’s directive and protect the health of our clients, staff, and the community in general, the attorneys and paralegals at Stock and Leader are no longer physically meeting with clients. All attorneys and paralegals, however, remain available by email, teleconference and video-conference.

What this means for your documents:

After learning more about your family, finances and goals via the remote avenues discussed above, we are still able to draft your documents as usual and send them to you for review. After making any necessary modifications, we would normally set up an in-person meeting to review and execute your documents. Fortunately, our inability to meet with you physically does not prevent you from finalizing your documents. All attorneys remain available to review each document with you and ensure your wishes are carried out. While not ideal, as you will see below, there are still ways to validly execute your documents without coming into our office.

Wills: What Can I do about execution of documents while at home?

In order to be valid under Pennsylvania law, a Will must meet two simple requirements: 1) it must be in writing and 2) it must be signed at the end. Your signature need not be witnessed unless you cannot sign the document yourself and need to either sign by making a mark or have someone else sign the document on your behalf. Under those circumstances, two witnesses are required.

Despite not needing to do so, if you sign your Will in the presence of two witnesses and a notary, you create what is called a self-proving Will. During the probate process, the means by which a formal estate is opened, your original Will must be filed with your local Register of Wills office. If your Will is self-proving, the Executor named under your document can appear at the courthouse alone. If your Will was signed in front of two witnesses but not notarized, the two subscribing witnesses will need to sign an oath to affirm that the document presented is in fact your Will. Alternatively, if your signature was neither notarized nor witnessed, two non-subscribing witnesses will need to take an oath to affirm that it is in fact your signature on the document.

Accordingly, while not often recommended, you are able to execute a valid Will in Pennsylvania even if you do not have access to witnesses or a notary during this time of uncertainty.

Living Wills

Living Wills, documents that allow you to make your health care treatment preferences known in advance, must be signed, dated and witnessed by two witnesses to be valid under Pennsylvania law. Once again, however, notarization is recommended, but not required.

Powers of Attorney

Unfortunately, Powers of Attorney require two independent witnesses and notarization in Pennsylvania, which means that unless you have access to a notary, you will not be able to execute a valid Power of Attorney at this time. Some financial institutions with drive-up services, however, are currently offering notary services to its customers. As such, you may still be able to execute your Power of Attorney despite the Governor’s orders.

Contact us today

Whatever your needs, the estate planning attorneys at Stock and Leader continue to be here to answer any questions you may have and to ensure that your documents are properly prepared and executed, even from afar.

The attorneys at Stock and Leader recognize that everyone is struggling with the disruption and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many individuals and businesses face decisions about how to move forward and function in a time of absolute uncertainty. We are striving to learn as much as we can and quickly as we can. Stock and Leader is here to help you through these difficult and uncertain times. Our focus is on you. You can be confident that Stock and Leader stands beside its clients and will help you navigate these unchartered waters.

If you have any questions related to these updates, please contact our Estate Planning team:

Thomas Shorb, Esq.
MacGregor Brillhart, Esq.
Kristen McGuire, Esq.

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