If you are like many Americans, you do not have a will or trust in place – or it has been a while since you last updated it. The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a stark warning about what can happen suddenly without any warning. To keep you safe and protect your legal rights during this scary time, Lana Hawkins is currently offering online estate planning during COVID-19. Here is the information you need to know about this process.
Online consultation is just like an in-person estate planning consultation except it occurs over videoconferencing software so that you can safely remain at home. During this consultation, your estate planning attorney will get to know you and help you consider important questions, such as:
- What are your estate planning goals?
- What is the structure of your family?
- Who do you want to inherit from you and what do you want them to get?
- What assets do you own and are there any death designations on them?
- Who do you want to appoint to important roles for your estate plan?
- What would you want to have happened in the event you become incapacitated or ill with COVID-19 or another illness?
- What types of end-of-life treatment would you want to receive?
Attorney Hawkins will work closely with you to answer these questions and any others that come up within the scope of representation.
Attorney Hawkins will draft your documents to ensure that they fulfill your estate planning objectives.
The online estate planning process goes a step further by allowing you to review the documents as they are created. We can prepare documents based on your needs, including:
- Wills – This important estate planning document nominates a guardian for your minor children, appoints an executor, and describes how your property should be distributed after your death.
- Trusts – You can plan for Medicaid, protect assets, and avoid the probate process with a trust.
- Advance healthcare directives – You can indicate the type of medical treatments you want – and do not want – in certain situations and appoint a person to make important medical decisions if you are unable to do so yourself.
- Powers of attorney – These documents give the person your name, your agent, the right to handle your financial affairs.
You can review your documents in the safety of your home over email to ensure that all of your wishes are communicated.
Remote Online Notarization
According to an executive order by the governor, remote online notarization is currently being permitted during the pendency of the public health emergency. Typically, you would sign a will and other estate planning documents in front of two witnesses and a notary public. However, in the interest of public health and safety, the governor is allowing these practices to be completed over teleconferencing. This allows you to carry out the legal requirements to execute your documents without putting your health in danger.
If you would like to learn more about how to make an estate plan or the role of powers of attorney, trusts, wills, or advance healthcare directives, visit https://www.hawkinslawllc.com/.
Family interventions may be necessary for a variety of reasons. A loved one may have a drug or alcohol problem. Mental health issues may arise, causing a person to act out due to depression, anxiety, or personality disorder. A child may be showing signs of problems with drugs or alcohol-based on truancy, discipline problems, or declining grades. When these situations occur, family intervention can be an effective way to identify the problem and lay a foundation about how to resolve it.
Family interventions may be necessary even during the best of times. However, financial distress, a pandemic, or an emotional crisis can amplify these problems. The COVID-19 situation has been associated with a rise in divorce rates, domestic violence, and mental health issues. For these reasons, it is now more important than ever to consider implementing the process of mediation to address these issues.
When a family works together toward a mutual goal, they are often able to put aside their differences and achieve mutually satisfactory goals. They may be able to improve their communication and understanding of a situation with the assistance of an experienced family mediator who has seen these issues before and can make recommendations about how to resolve them.
During the process of mediation, the mediator will help the parties focus on the real problems and their underlying causes. By systematically addressing these issues, the mediator can help the parties communicate more effectively and align their interests. He or she can help the family set up a customized plan to address their concerns and lay a foundation for the future.
COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of life in the United States, including jobs, economic security, personal relationships, and family relationships. This has resulted in several unprecedented issues involving domestic relations. Fortunately, mediation can help resolve these issues in an efficient and mutually respectful way. Here are some of the areas that have been affected by the COVID-19 situation and how mediation can help.
Previously amicable family relations have been affected by COVID-19 when scared parents felt that the other parent was not taking the situation seriously or posed a health risk to the child. Many parents are worried about a child contracting the virus in one home and then infecting people in the other home. This has caused some parents to consider changing their custody arrangements.
Even though the COVID-19 situation is scary, it is only a temporary situation, albeit a prolonged situation. Children thrive with predictability and stability. A family mediator can talk about how the parents can make a safe environment for their child and how to keep the child’s interests as the focus. This may result in the parents agreeing to keep the same plan in place during the crisis or making some temporary changes to account for the evolving situation.
Visitation and Parenting Time
Some custodial parents have withheld visitation due to shelter-in-place orders or fear. A family mediator can discuss ways that parents can feel safer during this time, such as maintaining consistent hygiene standards. He or she can also discuss ways that parents can exercise visitation if they are not physically able to visit.
Child and Spousal Support
With millions of people laid off during the coronavirus outbreak, many parents have suffered financially and may be struggling with the ability to pay child support or spousal support. A mediator can help the parties come up with a temporary solution to adjust to the changing situation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many things to spiral out of control. Parents are having to do double duty as teachers, and many are working from home while being a full-time caretaker for their children. The shelter-in-place orders in many jurisdictions have led to confusion about parents’ rights and what they should do to ensure the health of their children and themselves.
At the same time, there may be limited resources available to address these issues with courts around the country closed because of the virus. Self-help centers may not be available to assist. Parents who do not have emergencies may have to wait to seek any intervention from the court until after the crisis has subsided, at which point, the issue may be null and void.
Many problems may go unresolved, such as parents missing long periods of visitation with their children, how to address support payments when there is a change in income or how lost parenting time should be made up.
In response to these concerns, many mediators across the country are offering their services in innovative ways. For example, they may offer telephone consultations to help answer questions or resolve issues with parents. Others are providing remote mediation through video conferencing to help parents make amicable agreements regarding custody, visitation, and emergency plans. This forum can help families effectively resolve issues involving visitation concerns arising out of quarantine and the possibility of infection, support issues, and changes to plans to account for the evolving situation.
Mediation and other alternative methods have always been marketed as more flexible, and equally (if not more) successful modes of dispute resolution. These days, in light of the social-distancing and other policies being enforced to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, mediation has gained traction as a working solution to the inaccessibility of family court.
This is not so surprising since mediation and these other alternative methods have been the preferred escape route from the rigors of family law and medical malpracticelitigation for some time now. In many countries, the doors to court are currently shut to non-essential and avoidable hearings. Unfortunately, that includes family law and medical malpractice cases. Hence, thepopularity of mediation and other ADR. But, even at the moment, mediation is not physically possible and new ways are being devised to use these methods to cater to lingering case traffic.
The effect is that courts and concerned parties are now leveraging the internet and conducting hearings online via web conferencing. These measures are already in wide use and have been well received. However, mediating online brings to light its own set of challenges. Older disputes, for instance, which have already been in court typically find it harder or impossible to make the transition.
But one cannot expect things to be the same as normal and there are, assuredly, opportunities, and challenges going forward.
Leveragingweb conferencing technologies
Web conferencing and other digital technologies are currently the best workable solutions to resolving disputes. Numerous platforms currently exist to cater to digital conferencing needs, and several of them are easy-to-use and do not require any tech-savvy. Generally, these platforms are available as apps and can be accessed on ubiquitous gadgets like laptops and smartphones. They are generally cloud-based and allow for easy collaboration and user control.
Thanks to simple, stable, and scalable interactive software, the Zoom app is the preferred platform for attorneys, and probably everyone else. Parties to mediation will need to purchase a package that will allow interaction with video, audio, and text for as long as it is needed and with as many participants as possible. There is a free version which, despite restrictions, allows people to interact for a respectable amount of time -usually 40 minutes. Thanks to new security upgrades, sessions can now be secured with passwords, and users also do not have to worry anymore about intruders.
Mediators also find extensive use for the Zoom app’s practical features. Parties to in-person mediations do not have to be in the same room, building, or street block to interact; something that helps alleviate tension. The app also has other sleek features; mediators can put parties in different cyber rooms and spare them the faces of opposing counsel and other parties. Mediators can also create even more rooms to interact with either or both of the attorneys. These rooms can also be secured with passkeys, so confidence is kept and parties cannot spy on each other’s rooms.
Mediators can cut off the audio when proceedings get too heated. Users can also do the same to their connection via a toolbar at the bottom of the screen. The chat feature also allows secure text messages from the mediator to one party (and vice versa) while being invisible to the other party. Users can also seekassistance from the mediator via the text feature through a help button.
Written agreements, which are a hallmark of mediation, are still possible with the Zoom app. Once the agreements reached are memorialized in a written document, parties can append their signatures with the use of programs like DocuSign, Adobe, and Clio. The programs should naturally be encrypted for security reasons. Documents, before they are signed, can be reviewed by the parties in concert with their attorneys in the different chat rooms. They can then be shared via e-mail or a screen sharing option.
In place of electronic signatures, parties can be placed on record. With the mediator recording their respective recitations of the terms agreed to. This makes it easier to then draft a formal documentthat can be emailed for review and signature.
The challenges remain
The cost of mediation can be herculean for parties with lower income and paying an attorney and mediator at the same time is often a luxury they cannot afford. Beyond free local mediations by volunteer attorneys, and until courts resume functions at a regular pace, there may be no alternative. Hopefully, dispute resolution centers will take a lesson from the current playbook and start scheduling Zoom or in-person mediations.
For some specific cases, Zoom and other web conferencing platforms may not eliminate all the risks. A victim of domestic violence in the same house with the abuser will be in danger without an attorney physically present. But this is also easily overcome when they are separated and mediate from different locations like in a car or at the neighbors. In any case, mediators will need to properly assess the situation before determining the parameters of a meeting. Otherwise, parties can choose to wait until the proper arrangements can be made when the shelter-in-place orders are lifted.
Despite the great promise of Zoom and other web conferencing platforms in mediation, their use should depend on the merits of each case and the premium placed by the parties on finalizing the process. Some cases require the human element or presence of parties/mediator themselves to be any good. And there is also the seriousness factor if participants can reconcile the gravity of proceedings.
These platforms are here though and are likely to remain long after this crisis. Family mediation has been digitizing for a long time now and has frankly become easier than ever before. The question should not be whether these technologies are viable alternatives; because it is simply obvious, givencurrentcircumstances that they are.