Hamilton

Hamilton lawyers offer free will planning for anxious frontline COVID-19 workers

A local law firm offers free will and power of attorney planning for frontline workers during COVID-19 as uncertainty looms.

Hamilton law firm says it's seen 50 per cent more clients for will and power of attorney planning

Health care workers put on personal protective equipment before testing at a drive-thru COVID-19 assessment centre at the Etobicoke General Hospital in Toronto on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Health officials and the government have asked that people stay inside to help curb the spread of the coronavirus also known as COVID-19. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

In response to the high stakes frontline workers are facing during COVID-19, a Hamilton law firm has started offering free will and power of attorney planning services for essential workers during the pandemic. 

As of Friday, more than 620 health-care workers in Ontario had tested positive for the virus.

"People...on the front lines (are seeing) their colleagues fall sick and they're having to work through that and I think that really makes them contemplate their own mortality," said lawyer Sara Auld from Findlay Law. 

Auld started the free services through Findlay and has had 20 lawyers from firms across Ontario volunteer to help.  

Depending on the circumstances, will planning services can cost anywhere between $200 to $2,000, Auld said. 

As of Tuesday, 20 families used the service, though Findlay is anticipating the demand will increase as the situation becomes more dire. 

For the most part, Auld said they are servicing people who have children and are between 20 and 40 years old. 

"I think they're just very concerned about how bad things are going to get with the virus and that their own lives are at risk...they don't have a plan in place for that," Auld said. 

Findlay Law is offering free will preparation services for Ontario's frontline health-care workers. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

One family they helped was a couple who were both doctors and have kids. The parents were concerned about arranging temporary guardians should something happen to them, as their family members live outside of Canada. 

Though Findlay doesn't typically provide these types of legal services, Auld said they soon realized the need after they saw an online discussion from health-care workers in the United States who expressed concerns about their futures. 

Auld then started reaching out to local law colleagues and people she knew in the health-care industry to see if the service would be helpful here. 

"For the most part, I don't think people planned for this and now here it is. We're in the middle of it," she said. 

"Everybody's looking at the death toll every day and I think, if you're a frontline person, you're just going to have all that much more anxiety about it, because you don't have a choice — you have to be there." 

'COVID has put it into a bit of a different light'

When Matthew Miller, a 37-year-old St. Joseph's Healthcare physician, heard about Auld's initiative, he passed the service along to his colleagues and reached out to get his will done.

But it wasn't because he was worried about COVID-19. 

"In medicine, COVID-19 hasn't all of a sudden prompted us to think 'oh no something might happen.' We see sickness otherwise. The vast majority of us have had discussions or thoughts about what (we) want done if something were to happen prior to this. It's not unique to COVID," Miller said. 

He added that, "COVID has put it into a bit of a different light." 

Regardless of what's happening in the world, Miller said, it's essential for people to have their affairs in order. 

Firm sees 50 per cent increase in clients

While Findlay has only opened up their services to frontline health-care workers, Auld said they wouldn't be opposed to helping other essential workers during this time. 

According to Jordan Atin of Oakville's Hull and Hull law firm, there has been an increased demand from people wanting to plan their will, estate or power of attorney. 

Atin says he's seen a 50 per cent increase in clients, with many people saying the coronavirus pushed them to get their wills done. 

A sign on a home in east Hamilton thanks front-line workers. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"Its been on people's minds, I'm sure. And then, you know, (COVID-19) makes it even more important to them, and they have the time to start doing it," said Atin, whose law firm provided Findlay free software to develop the wills. 

The Ontario government has also made it easier for this sort of legal planning to take place during the pandemic by approving remote witnessing of signatures via audio or video calls, for wills and power of attorney documents. 

According to Atin, this sort of order is unheard of and makes the process a bit more complicated as multiple video chats must be scheduled so that everyone can witness each other sign the documents. 

The order passed on April 7 under the provincial emergency act and will be in place until the end of the pandemic.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer La Grassa

Reporter/Editor

Jennifer La Grassa is a reporter/editor for CBC Windsor. Email: jennifer.lagrassa@cbc.ca

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