How Do I Have My Will And Other Legal Documents Witnessed And Notarized In Michigan During COVID?

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Michigan is making electronic accommodations for witness and notary signatures during COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has made many of us focus on the need to have our estate documents in order, especially powers of attorney and wills. But, what do we do about the signing requirements for witnesses and notaries when we live in a time of social distancing and statewide stay at home orders?

Under normal circumstances, Michigan law has strict requirements for certain legal documents. Wills must be witnessed by two people. A deed and power of attorney must be notarized by a licensed notary. Michigan law currently requires both the witness and notary signatures of documents to be done in person at the time of signing. These in-person requirements present significant challenges given the current need for social distancing and the fact that many professional offices are still closed or operating remotely.

Fortunately, the State of Michigan has temporarily eased these restrictions. On April 8, 2020, Governor Gretchen Witmer issued Executive Order 2020-41, which suspends some of the requirements for signing a will through June 30, 2020. Essentially, the Executive Order provides a path for remote witnessing and notarization of documents as long as the following criteria are met:

Witnesses

  • Witnesses may witness a will being signed without being physically present, as long as the witnesses can see the individual sign the will by video with audio.
  • The recording must be saved for at least 3 years.
  • The person signing the will must explain to the witnesses what he or she is signing, show the pages on the video and the witness must observe each signature.
  • The person signing the will must mail, email or fax the signed will to the witnesses within 24 hours of the signing and the witnesses must return their own signatures by the same method of sending.

Notarization

  • Notaries can notarize a document through two-way audiovisual communication.
  • The audiovisual communication must be recorded and saved for at least 10 years and comply with the Michigan notary statute (MCLA 55.286)
  • The person signing the notarized document must still present photo identification such as a driver's license or passport.
  • The person signing the notarized document must answer questions regarding the purpose of the document and whether it falls within Michigan jurisdiction.
  • The person signing the notarized document must mail, email or fax a legible copy of the document to the notary for the notary to sign and notarize. The notary will return the document after completion.

How Long Will These Accommodations Last?

Governor Witmer's current Executive Order is set to expire on June 30, 2020. However, since the Governor has extended the emergency declaration in Michigan through July 16, 2020, it is likely that she may also extend the suspension of strict signing requirements through that date as well.

The team at Suzanne R. Fanning PLLC are ready to accommodate signings of trust and estate documents, or other legal documents with your safety in mind. We can witness and notarize the documents remotely or we can schedule a signing with distancing. We also welcome meetings by zoom or other electronic means.

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