Latest COVID-19 response bill includes changes for marriage licenses, wills, and more

The Senate passed a fourth COVID-19 response bill this week. Minnesotans are finding difficulties with judiciary matters that typically involve interactions with other people, so the bill made a number of changes to these matters that reflect the social distancing that Minnesotans are using to reduce the spread of the virus.

One of these changes was the ability for couples to apply for marriage licenses electronically. Usually, at least one person in a couple applying for a marriage license must apply in person. The COVID-19 response bill allows counties to waive that requirement during peacetime emergencies, allowing for applications to be accepted by mail, fax, or electronic filing, if the application is signed by both individuals and they’ve been examined under oath. Examination under oath may happen over video or audio, and both individuals have to attest to the legality of the marriage. Counties aren’t required to offer this, so individuals should check with their counties to see if it is an option.

Those owing child support see a cost of living adjustment every year. The COLA adjustment may be contested, but it’s typically done in person, and there is a deadline to contest that adjustment. The COVID-19 response bill moved that deadline from May 1, 2020 to June 30, and there is an extension of the deadline until October 31, 2020 if an individual is unable to file a contest before June 30 due to COVID-19.

Minnesotans are also looking to update their wills in light of the global pandemic.

In Minnesota, wills must be written, signed by the individual the will belongs to or their designee, and signed by two witnesses. However, attorneys are seeing challenges in getting wills properly executed, especially with at-risk populations. People don’t want to go to their lawyer’s office and are finding it difficult to get witnesses. This is especially true for people who have been quarantined or are in communal care settings that are effectively in lock-down mode.

Attorneys have been hearing cases of individuals using nonconventional witness options that have not been vetted by the state’s courts. The latest COVID-19 response bill acknowledges this by allowing wills to be probated with errors in execution if the errors are harmless.It’s effective for wills and documents made or changed on or after March 13, 2020 and before February 15, 2021.

The bill also included a stay on certain deadlines for the judicial branch in district and appeals courts.

There are a number of statutory deadlines prescribed for the state’s district and appellate courts prescribed in statute that are difficult to meet right now in light of COVID-19, especially as the judicial system is limiting interactions. This section suspends those deadlines until 60 days after the end of the peacetime emergency.

The section specifically does not prohibit a court from holding a hearing, requiring an appearance, or issuing an order if it’s determined that it’s relevant to public safety, personal safety, or other emergency matters.

The is effective the day after final enactment and applies to all deadlines that hadn’t expired by March 13, 2020, and to deadlines generated on or after that day.

Senate DFLers are committed to keeping Minnesotans safe and informed during this pandemic. We know the stay-at-home order is working, and we are seeing a shift in the curve. Now is not the time to let up on that, but we know that life goes on even while we’re working on keeping everyone safe. We understand this and are working to find additional ways to adapt so that people can take care of the important parts of their life without putting themselves or others at risk.