Remote Estate Planning: There’s a Way for a Will

Even when remote, it’s not too late to do your estate planning

By Beth Taylor | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on January 22, 2024 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorneys Marve Ann M. Alaimo and Mary Merrell Bailey

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There’s no doubt it’s harder to estate plan when remote—especially when circumstances make it necessary, as in a pandemic or other crisis—but estate planning attorneys say it can still be done. They caution people against opting for self-help legal forms.

“It’s still important to get proper advice,” says Marve Ann M. Alaimo, with Porter Wright Morris & Arthur in Naples, Florida. “Many estate planning attorneys are able to consult with clients by phone or through audio-video applications. Documents can be sent to and from clients electronically to minimize personal contact.”

It’s only natural to be feeling concerned about estate planning during a time of crisis. “Best thing is: Don’t panic,” advises Mary Merrell Bailey at Your Caring Law Firm in Winter Park, Florida. “If you don’t have an estate plan, you are not alone. Most adults in the United States do not have documents.”

Still, it’s worth the extra effort to make an estate plan. “If you don’t have a durable power of attorney, health care surrogate, living will, last will and testament, revocable living trust, etc., it is more difficult and more expensive for loved ones to handle your affairs for you, and you lose much control over who makes decisions and who will inherit your wealth,” says Bailey.

Many estate planning attorneys are able to consult with clients by phone or through audio-video applications. Documents can be sent to and from clients electronically to minimize personal contact.

Marve Ann M. Alaimo

Where There’s a Will There’s a Way to Make It Valid

Getting documents signed remotely can be a bit of a challenge, but it can often be accomplished. “There may be ways to facilitate that,” says Alaimo. 

Remote Notarization

“Some documents can be remotely notarized. Not all documents require notaries to be valid so that formality could be dispensed with for the time being.”

For the documents that do require notarization (like a valid will), Bailey says more and more states are allowing that to be done remotely. “This means that you may meet online, not in person, with the notary and get your documents legally signed,” she says.

Remote Witnesses for Wills

However, getting a will or other document witnessed can be a more daunting task. In Florida, state law allowed remote witnessing beginning July 1, 2020. “[Before then],” says Alaimo, “certain family members [could] serve as witnesses for certain documents, especially if those family members [played] no significant role or [got] any unusual benefit.”

If you don’t have a durable power of attorney, health care surrogate, living will, last will and testament, revocable living trust, etc., it is more difficult and more expensive for loved ones to handle your affairs for you, and you lose much control over who makes decisions and who will inherit your wealth.

Mary Merrell Bailey

Health Care Surrogate and Living Wills Documents

If you do end up in a hospital and haven’t yet gotten your documents in order, you can at least ask the facility for health care surrogate and living will documents:

Health Care Surrogate

“Your surrogate for health care decisions is the person (or persons) whom you want to be allowed to step in your shoes and ‘be you,’ legally, to make informed-consent medical care decisions to keep you alive because the doctors believe you will recover,” says Bailey.

Living Will

“Your agent under the living will is the person whom you want to be allowed to step in your shoes and ‘be you,’ legally, to ‘pull the plug’ and remove your artificial life support so you can die a natural death if you are unable to communicate yourself and at least two physicians have said there is no hope that you will recover,” Bailey explains.

Plan in Advance with the Help of an Estate Planning Lawyer

Much better to get things done ahead of time. “Planning in advance,” says Bailey, “gives you control, increases your options, makes it much easier for your loved ones to help you, and is far less expensive overall.”

Visit the Super Lawyers directory to find an experienced wills and estate planning lawyer in your area. For more information on this area of law, such as naming beneficiaries and the probate court process, see our overviews of estate planning, wills, trusts, and probate and estate administration.

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