New York – January 30, 2021

Until earlier this week, a Surrogate’s Court had not addressed the admission of a remotely witnessed will to probate.  By Decision and Order, dated January 25, 2021, Broome County Surrogate David H. Guy issued what appears to be the first reported New York decision addressing the admission to probate of a remotely witnessed will.  A New York probate attorney can address concerns regarding this process.

Emergency order.

In action signed by Governor Cuomo addressing the impact of COVID-19 language surrounding estates powers and trust law included:

For the purposes of Estates Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL)  3-2.1(a)(2), EPTL 3-2.1(a)(4), Public Health Law 2981(2)(a), Public Health Law 4201(3), Article 9 of the Real Property Law, General Obligations Law 5-1514(9)(b), and EPTL 7-1.17, the act of witnessing that is required under the aforementioned New York State laws is authorized to be performed utilizing audio-video technology provided that the following conditions are met:

  • The person requesting that their signature be witnessed, if not personally known to the witness(es), must present valid photo ID to the witness(es) during the video conference, not merely transmit it prior to or after;
  • The video conference must allow for direct interaction between the person and the witness(es), and the supervising attorney, if applicable (e.g. no pre-recorded videos of the person signing);
  • The witnesses must receive a legible copy of the signature page(s), which may be transmitted via fax or electronic means, on the same date that the pages are signed by the person;
  • The witness(es) may sign the transmitted copy of the signature page(s) and transmit the same back to the person; and
  • The witness(es) may repeat the witnessing of the original signature page(s) as of the date of execution provided the witness(es) receive such original signature pages together with the electronically witnessed copies within thirty days after the date of execution.

Legal counsel and guidelines.

The will that was accepted to New York Surrogate Court met the parameters of the emergency guidelines and will probably be just the beginning of admitted wills that were executed and witnessed in this manner due to the pandemic.  New York estate planning and probate attorneys are knowledgeable about estate documents and how they will affect end-of-life care and probate actions. Closing out New York estates can be time-consuming depending upon the nature of the assets left to distribute and events where named beneficiaries, or others  will contest estate documents, including a will.  Experienced probate lawyers can be instrumental in the smooth processing of last will documents that were remotely witnessed following the guidelines of New York Estate Powers and Trust Law during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Will administration.

Will administration does not occur unless there is a death to a person, at which point a probate attorney will do their best to effectively and expediently administer a will to shield an executor from frustrations surrounding timely payment of bills and costs related to the individual who died.  If a dispute arises regarding the manner in which a will was witnessed during COVID-19, Attorney Ron Meyers can answer related questions and make certain the documents go through proper probate action in New York  Surrogate Court.

 Ron L. Meyers & Associates, PLLC

Address:  475 Park Avenue South, Suite 2100

Manhattan, NY 10016

Phone: 212-644-8787

Sources:

https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/EPT

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