Elder Law in New York During the Pandemic

Why it's crucial to get your agents in place

Like many New York lawyers, Fern Finkel of Finkel & Fernandez in Brooklyn transitioned to working remotely in mid-March. That’s created challenges, such as the need to help clients set up videoconferencing software to facilitate remote meetings.

However, two of Gov. Cuomo’s executive orders, 202.7 and 202.14, which allow for the remote notarization and witnessing of documents, have helped ease the burden on New Yorkers who want to put their affairs in order while maintaining a safe distance. “The ability to execute documents remotely with these two has been gold,” Finkel says. “The strict technical requirements must be followed, and there were growing pains at first, but I have found that Zoom is a wonderful platform for getting documents signed, witnessed, notorized, and put into effect.”

The orders expire every 30 days, but Finkel is confident they’ll continue to be extended for the duration of the pandemic. “I can’t imagine our governor not extending it,” she says. “But until it’s extended, I have to err on the side of caution with my clients and let them know that if a further extension is not implemented, the documents that they’re having me prepare and spending money on may not be executed until I deem it safe for an in-person signing, which often requires four people: the signer, two witnesses and a notary. With the elderly at the greatest risk, we are not offering in-person signings at this time.”

She adds: “The most important thing now is to get your agents in place to act for you if you cannot speak for yourself. If someone’s in a hospital, the hospital can help you do your most basic health care directives, such as your health care proxy”—that’s a document that lets a person appoint an agent to make health care decisions on their behalf—“and HIPAA. I always recommend sending the executed proxy electronically to the agent so the agent then has it at their fingertips. I recommend the agent keep it on their phone so that it’s always accessible. And most importantly, pick an agent who will advocate to get you back home. During this pandemic, so many of our clients died who were in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, many of COVID and others from unknown causes. I believe the isolation put in place for their safety was a major factor and huge fallout from this pandemic.”

For more information, see our overview of elder law or seek the counsel of a reputable elder law attorney.

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