In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, society underwent a radical transformation. From remote working and online schooling to virtual doctor consultations and contactless deliveries, technology enabled us to adapt and continue functioning while practicing social distancing.
Estate planning attorneys also had to adjust to the new normal by adopting online tools and platforms to interact with clients. Traditionally, estate planning attorneys rely on face-to-face meetings to discuss client goals, review their assets, and draft legal documents such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney.
Estate planning meetings at the attorney's office or the client's home often involved multiple sessions to ensure that all the necessary information was gathered and documented accurately. However, the pandemic made in-person meetings challenging, if not impossible. As a result, many estate planning attorneys turned to technology to interact with clients remotely.
Online Meeting Tools
Video conferencing software is one of the primary tools that have made remote estate planning possible. Platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet became pervasive in the pandemic era, allowing attorneys to meet with clients anywhere in the world. These platforms have proven to be reliable and user-friendly, with features like screen sharing, recording, and chat functions that facilitate communication and collaboration.
In addition to video conferencing, estate planning attorneys started using digital tools, such as client portals, to gather client information and draft legal documents remotely. For example, many firms use online questionnaires and surveys to collect information about a client's assets, family structure, and financial goals. This data is then used to draft legal documents, which can be reviewed and signed electronically using e-signature software.
E-signature software has been a game-changer for remote estate planning. It allows clients to sign legal documents without physically meeting with their attorney. This is especially useful when clients are unable to travel due to health concerns or other reasons. E-signature software is also secure and legally binding, ensuring documents are valid and enforceable. The rules about signing estate plan documents remotely vary from state to state, so ask your attorney about what's allowed in your state.
Online Document Management
Online document management platforms have also become essential tools for estate planning attorneys. These platforms allow attorneys to store and organize legal documents securely, making it easier to access and update them as needed. Clients can also access their documents online, reducing the need for physical copies and making it easier to share them with family members and other parties.
Drawbacks of Remote Estate Planning
Though the cost- and time-saving benefits of remote interaction can’t be denied, there are some drawbacks. When interacting remotely, it may be difficult for an attorney to determine a client’s capacity to make sound decisions regarding important estate planning matters. Knowing if a client is being manipulated or defrauded may also be difficult.
There are ways to mitigate the risk of creating an estate plan for a client who lacks mental capacity or may be the victim of fraud or manipulation. Signing estate planning documents can be done in person. Attorneys can add more virtual meetings to get to know the client and learn about their wishes and intentions. Online tools and strategies can help reduce the risk of a client signing documents that don’t reflect their goals.
The COVID-19 pandemic shifted our world to remote work and social lives. Video conferencing, digital document drafting and management tools, and e-signature software have enabled attorneys to continue providing essential services to their clients. While remote estate planning was already gaining popularity before the pandemic, it's likely to continue to be a significant part of estate planning in the future.
This article offers a summary of aspects of estate planning. It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. For assistance, please contact us at our Brooklyn office or call us at 718-233-2903.