Hank Investigates: Risking your life to sign your will

Experts tell 7 Investigates the coronavirus outbreak has triggered a lot of people to write their wills and make health proxy plans in case the virus sends them to a hospital. But investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan some are having to risk their lives just to get it done.

Wills, power of attorney documents, health care proxy and child custody designations— with the pandemic surging in Massachusetts experts say many people are rushing to get these done.

“Many clients find that COVID 19 is a wakeup call to get their affairs in order,” Joblin C. Younger an estate planning attorney in Beverly said.

The problem is, Massachusetts law requires a witness or a notary be physically present when a person signs one of these important documents to ensure the signature is authentic.

But our investigation found the law does not allow “video witnessing”–no Zoom, Skype or Facetime. So to get these papers legalized people have to come out of their homes–and be close to another person.

“They’re dealing with life and death. And they shouldn’t have to risk their life to sign this,” Younger said.

As a result, attorneys like Joblin Younger are calling for a temporary change in the law to allow legal signings via video.

“This bill would alter what presence means and you could be present by a video conference, and you would be able to see the actual person sign the actual document, the witness sign as a witness to that document, and then the notary can sign as a notary to the document as well,” Younger said.

Until the law is changed, Younger says he’s had clients do signings from inside their cars–  and others hospilizated or in nursing homes can’t do it at all.

“It’s tragic. It’s tragic. There’s an easy fix,” Younger said.

Right now, 42 other states allow remote signings of legal documents. But here in Massachusetts–lawmakers are still discussing that legislation.

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