More people are thinking about their wills, forcing lawyers to improvise

Erik Larson, Malathi Nayak and Edvard Pettersson, Bloomberg News on

Published in Business News

The rising death toll from the coronavirus pandemic is prompting more people, from young health care professionals to the elderly, to prepare their wills in a hurry -- a task being complicated by social distancing and fear of catching the bug.

That has lawyers in the U.S. improvising with some offbeat measures.

Neil Fang, an estate lawyer in Woodbury, New York, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of Manhattan, said one wealthy couple in their 50s was so spooked by the outbreak that they rushed to complete their will last weekend, meeting him in the law firm's parking lot while wearing face masks and plastic gloves. The couple signed the will on the hood of their slate gray Porsche Carrera, while Fang and his law partner looked on as the state's two legally required witnesses.

"We kept a distance of about six to 10 feet the whole time," Fang, who's practiced law for about 25 years, said in a phone interview.

With more than 60,000 infections and 800 deaths, the U.S. is now the third hardest-hit country after China and Italy. At least 179 million people in 18 states are being urged to stay home and to keep their distance from others when venturing out for groceries or exercise.

Joseph Cooter, an estate planning lawyer in Oakland, California, has seen an uptick in business with inquiries from clients young and old.He said he typically sits down with clients in their homes. But over the weekend, he carried a foldable card table in his car and set it up in a clients' driveway.


"We had to do signatures outside and stand far away from each other," Cooter said. "Going forward, gloves are certainly a good idea and masks as well. I don't have any masks and I'm not sure how I would get one."

Rebecca Goldfarb, an estate planning attorney in Los Angeles, said she witnesses the signing of documents through a window between her office and a meeting room where her clients are.

"We tell them to bring their own pen so they don't have to use ours," Goldfarb said.

But for millions of people who are likely to lose their jobs as the economy falters, wills and estate planning, which can cost several thousand dollars, aren't a top priority, said Amy Harrington, a probate attorney in San Francisco.


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