In Maryland, any individual over the age of 18 who is legally competent can make a Last Will and Testament (“Will”). In order for a Will to be considered valid under Maryland law, it must be (i) in writing, (ii) signed by the person making the Will (the “testator”), and (ii) attested to and signed by two credible witnesses in the physical presence of the testator.
Covid-19 resulted in many changes to how things were done. On April 10, 2020, Governor Hogan signed an emergency order that temporarily suspended the requirement that a Will must be signed by the testator and witnesses in the physical presence of each other during Maryland’s state of emergency. In light of the Governor’s Executive Order, many Wills and other estate planning documents were remotely witnessed in 2020. The problem with Governor Hogan’s emergency measure is that it terminates when the state of emergency ends and there is no guarantee that the Governor’s Executive Order is enough to ensure that a court will accept a Will that was remotely witnessed as valid years later when the testator dies and the Will needs to be filed to open an estate.
In attempt to ensure that any Will or other estate planning document that was remotely witnessed during the pandemic will be upheld as a valid document after the state of emergency ends, legislation was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly’s 2021 regular session. House Bill 1261 and Senate Bill SB 820 were introduced to permanently allow for the remote witnessing of certain documents under certain circumstances. While the bills did pass which allows future Wills to be remotely witnessed, any Wills that were remotely witnessed before the law went into effect may not be upheld or considered valid in the coming years when the testator dies and the Will needs to be filed with the court.
The good news is that there is a very simple solution to this potential problem. If your Will or other estate planning documents were remotely witnessed last year, contact your attorney now to make an appointment to re-execute those documents with everyone physically present so you can ensure the documents are legally compliant and will be upheld when the time comes to use them. Estate planning documents serve too great of a purpose to leave their validity to chance.