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Getting a Free Will During the Pandemic

Here’s how to do that in the age of social distancing

First responders are once again being called upon to perform their work under unimaginable circumstances. Due to the stark realities facing our frontline workers, we are receiving a surge of calls from clients desperately seeking to have their wills prepared. In fact, we’ve heard from some healthcare workers that they have been advised by their employers to get a will. Ironically, at the very moment that so many people finally want to have a will and health care proxy, law offices across the states have been ordered to close their doors.

In order to address the problem, NYS Governor Cuomo has signed an executive order permitting people to sign wills, health-care proxies, and other legal documents using video conferencing. The process requires a bit of help from technology. Using Zoom, or another video-conferencing platform, the witnesses and the attorney can witness the will signing from their own home. Afterwards, the signature pages of the will must be electronically distributed to every witness to sign that same day. This can be accomplished by taking a photo with a cellphone and emailing it to the witnesses and then back to the attorney. For active firefighters, the process can be simplified by holding will signings in the firehouse. Your fellow firefighters can serve as your witnesses and you can all sign the will at the same time, with the attorney watching by video.

We have long reminded firefighters of the importance of having a will. You are in the best position to decide where your assets should go, who should bring up your children, and how to plan for your family’s needs in the event that you and/or your spouse pass away. You should know that the right to the proceeds of lawsuits and 9/11 VCF claims are often dictated by a will. In other words, there may be assets that your family is entitled to that you aren’t even aware of. If you don’t have a will, your assets will be distributed according to state law, which takes a one-size-fits-all approach that often doesn’t work for most families. For example, money might go to minor children, rather than your spouse who needs the money to care for herself and the children. Elderly parents might inherit, complicating the careful Medicaid planning they did. And domestic partners, no matter how intertwined your lives are, will be disinherited. That’s why having a will is one of the most important things you can do to protect your loved ones.

Our office has already prepared over 4,000 free wills for firefighters and their spouses. While things are certainly more challenging during this health crisis while our office is closed, we are working from home and we will be happy to prepare your documents if you need our help. We are prioritizing virtual wills for our sickest clients so that they can get a will first. As always, active and retired firefighters are always welcome to call us for a free will questionnaire.

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