Estate Planning in a Pandemic and Online Notarizations

Our lives have been turned upside down as a result of the Pandemic. We are working from home, shuttling (or in the case of my kindergartner cajoling, begging, bribing, and in some cases crying) our children from Zoom call to Zoom call, trying to adjust to the new normal that is our insane lives.

I don’t have to recite the anxiety we all feel. But as the businesses have shut down, we can use this time to come out of the other end stronger, better, more prepared.

For instance, there are some people reading this article, both young and old, who find themselves with more time on their hands. With all of this extra time you can be productive, get your affairs in order, and work on that estate plan you have been procrastinating about. And thanks to New Jersey’s Online Notary Law, estate planning can go on using online platforms which have become the new normal.

On April 14, 2020, the New Jersey State Legislature passed New Jersey Act A3903, temporarily allowing for remote notarizations during the state of emergency declared by Governor Phil Murphy in Executive Order 103 of 2020. (New York had already passed a somewhat similar measure in Executive Order 202.7 in late March 2020).

The New Jersey act allows notary publics and attorneys to engage in notarial acts using “communication technology for a remotely located individual” if the officer has:

(1) personal knowledge of the individual; or

(2) satisfactory evidence of the identity of the individual: or

(3) has obtained satisfactory evidence of the identity of the individual by using two different types of identity proofing

The notary must also be sure that the documents it has are the same documents that the individual is signing, and that there is an audio-visual recording of the notarial act. The recording must be kept for 10 years and the documents have to reflect that it was signed using this online method. Importantly, remote notarizations will not be allowed once the Governor ends the state of emergency.

The point is that you can now execute documents remotely using Zoom if you comply with the New Jersey act.  Before New Jersey created this temporary law, I personally had a hard time executing (i.e., signing) New Jersey documents during the pandemic (it was much easier for my New York clients). As a result, I had to put some of my client signings on hold. However, with the passage of the Online Notary Act, signings are much easier. 

Thus, as the pandemic rages, our lives and our businesses do not have to stop. We can get our estate planning and real estate closing documents prepared, and we can get them signed. We can use this time to be productive so that when this nightmare is over we will feel confident that our families are protected and our businesses are just a little bit more secure.

Related: Estate Planning and Pets