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Electronic and Remote Signing During the Pandemic and the Slow Return to the “New Normal” : Practical Analysis and Suggestions

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How can counsel help clients sign estate planning documents during COVID? The current COVID-19 pandemic has made it more important than ever for individuals to create (or update) and sign estate planning documents. Before COVID-19, the client would simply visit an attorney’s office in order to sign core documents under the attorney’s supervision and with the lawyer providing the witnesses and/or a notary public. In many instances, attorneys would have two witnesses and a notary on all documents, because it would meet most, if not all, state statutory requirements to sign the various documents and it was easy to do so. It was also easier from an administrative perspective to have all documents signed with the same formalities, regardless of what the actual requirements were for any specific document. However, the current situation is anything but normal, with the COVID-19 pandemic requiring social distancing, sheltering-in-place and an associated lockdown of non-essential businesses.

Even as restrictions are beginning to lift, clients who are older or have underlying health conditions may continue to be concerned about close contact that in the past had been taken for granted as part of any estate planning signing ceremony. This webinar will provide an overview of different approaches to signing documents that various practitioners have considered or used in the current environment. In addition, a discussion of some of the general concepts of state law requirements for the valid execution of these core documents will be provided. Even when the social distancing and other restrictions are lifted, there is no assurance that that a resurgence of COVID-19 will not occur at a later date and the same issues arise again. Finally, even if COVID-19 is contained and a vaccine discovered, client comfort and preferences for signings may change forever. Hopefully, there will be a movement towards more flexibility in the signing of documents, including electronic and virtual signings that will provide permanent, practical and technically sound solutions for the long term.

In their exclusive LISI Webinar, Marty, Jonathan and Mitch will:

  • Discuss the traditional requirements for properly executing a will and other estate planning documents.
  • What does “in the presence of” really mean traditionally and in our electronic and post-COVID world?
  • Practical solutions that practitioners can use to execute document in the current environment (the drive by signing, through the looking glass, 20 paces and more).
  • What some of the measures various states have enacted provide in terms of leniency and practical considerations of those changes (and what colleagues are doing).
  • A mock remote will signing will be demonstrated to illustrate points practitioners might consider in signing any documents remotely, and to suggest where remote signing might evolve.


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Jonathan G. Blattmachr is director of estate planning for Peak Trust Company, formerly Alaska Trust Company, and a director of Pioneer Wealth Partners LLC, a boutique wealth advisory firm in Manhattan. He is a retired member of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy and of the New York and California bars. He is the author and co-author of eight books and over 500 articles, and has been chair of several committees of the New York and American Bar Associations and the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. He is co-developer of Wealth Transfer Planning, a computerized system for lawyers that automatically generates estate planning documents such as wills and trusts, and provides specific client advice using a form of artificial intelligence. Jonathan served two years of active duty in the US Army, rising to the rank of Captain and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal. He is an instrument rated land and seaplane pilot and a licensed hunting and fishing guide in the Town of Southampton, New York.

Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, PFS, AEP, JD is an attorney in private practice in Fort Lee, New Jersey and New York City who concentrates on estate and closely held business planning, tax planning, and estate administration. He is the author of 42 books and more than 1,000 articles. Marty is the Recipient of the 1994 Probate and Property Excellence in Writing Award, the Alfred C. Clapp Award presented by the 2007 New Jersey Bar Association and the Institute for Continuing Legal Education; Worth Magazine’s Top 100 Attorneys (2008); CPA Magazine Top 50 IRS Tax Practitioners, CPA Magazine, (April/May 2008). His article “Estate Planning for Clients with Parkinson’s,” received “Editors Choice Award.” In 2008 from Practical Estate Planning Magazine his “Integrating Religious Considerations into Estate and Real Estate Planning,” was awarded the 2008 “The Best Articles Published by the ABA,” award; he was named to New Jersey Super Lawyers (2010-15); his book “Estate Planning for People with a Chronic Condition or Disability,” was nominated for the 2009 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award; he was the 2012 recipient of the AICPA Sidney Kess Award for Excellence in Continuing Education; he was a 2012 recipient of the prestigious Accredited Estate Planners (Distinguished) award from the National Association of Estate Planning Counsels; and he was named Financial Planning Magazine 2012 Pro-Bono Financial Planner of the Year for his efforts on behalf of those living with chronic illness and disability. In June of 2015 he delivered the Hess Memorial Lecture for the New York City Bar Association. His firm's website is www.shenkmanlaw.com where he posts a regular blog and where you can subscribe to his free quarterly newsletter Practical Planner. He sponsors a free website designed to help advisers better serve those living with chronic disease or disability www.chronicillnessplanning.org which is in the process of being rebuilt. American Bar Association's The ABA Practical Guide to Estate Planning."

Rivkin Radler Distinguished Professor of Law
Before joining the Hofstra faculty, Professor Gans had been an associate in the Tax and Trust and Estates Departments at the New York City law firm of Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett and law clerk to Associate Judge Jacob D. Fuchsberg, New York State Court of Appeals. He is an Academic Fellow at the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Law at the NYU School of Law. Professor Gans is a leading scholar in the estate-and-gift tax area. On behalf of the NYU School of Law, he will teach this upcoming year an eight-week course in estate and gift tax to IRS attorneys throughout the country. He previously taught a similar course for the IRS on valuation methodology. He is a frequent lecturer for ALI-ABA, NYU, the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, the ABA and other groups. He currently serves on an advisory committee to the New York State legislature that is studying the revision of trust law in New York. Professor Gans has published articles in the Boston University Law Review, Emory Law Journal, University of Georgia Law Review, Notre Dame Law Review, Virginia Tax Review, Florida Tax Review and Tax Notes, among others. He is also the co-author of a book on the ethical obligations the Treasury imposes on tax practitioners.

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