Elder Law in the COVID-19 Era

It’s a question I answer several times a day: how is your practice being affected by shelter-in-place orders? By the increased needs for public hygiene?

It should come as no surprise that we are acutely aware of the special concerns that an elder law practice should have when we are dealing with infectious disease. This is especially the case where the disease in question is particularly harmful and devastating to those with other underlying health conditions. As we’ve seen, there are particularly vulnerable populations within our community, and the main vulnerable population that I serve is, as you might expect, our seniors. These are our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and ourselves. I am proud that my practice serves families. But how do we protect families in this climate?

We have taken several steps to ensure that our clients’ safety is placed first and foremost in our concerns:

  • My law firm, Harrison & Johnston, PLC, has temporarily closed its doors to the public. On any given day, only a couple of our attorneys and staff are in the office downtown. The rest of us are working from home and trying not to miss each other too much.
  • While I pride myself on being able to sit in an office or at a conference table with my clients, with tissues nearby and all the resources of a modern law office only steps away, I have moved 100% of my consultations and estate planning process to video and audio conferencing. Using a variety of platforms, I have met with clients, looped in their children, and even gotten to see my most vulnerable clients in nursing homes, thanks to these technologies and professional, helpful staff.
  • That said, there are certain aspects of elder law and estate planning especially that still have to be done in-person. Specifically, Virginia requires that witnesses to a will be in the physical presence of the person creating and signing the will, which we call the Testator, or, simply, my client. To deal with this, we have instituted “drive-by” signings, where my clients will drive up in their cars, park in our complimentary lot, call my cell phone, and I’ll don gloves and my jacket and come outside to go through the documents while my clients remain safely and comfortably in their cars. Once clients are comfortable with their documents, I go back inside and ask my assistant, Sherry, and another staff member to also put on protective gear and come outside to witness the document execution. After everything is signed, we place the completed documents into two-gallon zip-top plastic bags for three days, which allows time for any existing virus to expire. We then move forward with placing Notary stamps on the documents, scan everything for our records, and can either mail documents back to clients or send the electronic files and hold the originals for the future.
  • If you want a great article and look at what this is like, check out this lovely piece from the Daily Progress in Charlottesville, which features my dear friend and colleague, Doris Gelbman. My lovely former boss, Simon Stapleton, is also quoted.

We are seeing an unprecedented interest in estate planning and elder law, both because of concerns for those with fragile health conditions, and because young families are unfortunately faced with illness and confronted with mortality in a way that we don’t like to think about. I’m proud to be able to serve both populations.

Make sure you poke around throughout the website for additional services and answers to other questions and concerns.

And most importantly, stay safe and be kind to each other.


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Harrison & Johnston, PLC.
21 South Loudoun Street
Winchester, VA 22601
Phone: (540) 667-1266
Fax: (540) 667-1312

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