Curbside estate planning? South Austin attorney executes wills on the side of the road

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A south Austin attorney, stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, started a new venture to help people execute wills from the comfort and safety of their cars.

Joel Pace, known to KXAN viewers as the guy who transforms his house into Diagon Alley from Harry Potter on Halloween, started his Curbside Attorney service to help people plan for their future during this uncertain time.

“There’s a precipitating cause for why you start taking care of some of these things,” he said. “Whether it’s birth of a child, you get married, someone dies or there’s a pandemic.”

Pace prepares a client’s paperwork in advance, then the client and a witness pull up in their cars outside his Circle C home. Outfitted with gloves, a mask, a face shield and a smock, he brings the papers to the car window so the client never gets out of the car.

“We’ve tried to make the process friendly, approachable, not time-consuming, and safe,” he said.

To make it even more approachable, Pace will dress up in his Harry Potter robes (pending client approval) to perform the service.

Joel Pace, in wizard robes, performs a curbside will execution. (Photo Courtesy: Amanda Pace)

‘Everyone is concerned’

Holly Holmes stopped by Thursday to execute her will, one of about 50 clients Pace has either met with or scheduled for the service so far.

“Being a single mom of three, I thought it was about time to do that,” Holmes said.

The whole process took about 15 minutes. She stayed in her car with gloves and her mask on, and only interacted with Pace through the passenger-side window.

“Everyone is concerned about their health and looking to the future in a little bit of a more serious way,” she said. “If it wasn’t something so serious, I may not have felt the need to come over.”

Holly Holmes executes her will on Thursday, April 23, 2020. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

Parked in front of her was a witness for the process, Stephanie Johnson. She’s Pace’s neighbor who he recruits to be a witness when the client doesn’t have someone to bring (immediate family members can’t serve in the role if they’re named in the will).

Johnson gets a small fee for her part in the service, which helps during the stay-at-home orders. She runs a custom invitation business.

“So when COVID happened, my print shop closed, and essentially my Etsy shop closed as well,” she said. “If I can’t print my invitations and nobody’s getting together, then there goes my business.”

No virtual option

Executing a will is one task that can’t be done virtually, at least not for many people. A notary is required, as are in-person witnesses at the signing.

Gov. Greg Abbott is allowing notaries to use video-conferencing options for estate planning during the pandemic, but that doesn’t apply to witnesses. Some legal analysts also wonder how judges will view the virtual notary work once these wills start working through the court system.

Pace is working to expand the service to other parts of the city. He likes doing the work, because it’s a service people need, especially now.

“If anything were to happen to me,” Holmes said, “I know this gives me great peace of mind.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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