When there's no will, is there a way? Fresno COVID patient told 'no way'

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A scary situation has gotten worse for a Fresno family whose loved one is 80 years old, tested positive for COVID-19, and can't file estate planning paperwork.

"The mortality rate is extremely high and it's nerve-wracking," said Derrick Walker, whose aunt is Shirley McClain.

Her nursing home says McClain's legal documents can't get signed while she has the virus, so Walker asked for help from Action News.

Shirley McClain turned 80 in the last month and marked the occasion with a socially distant party.

She stayed inside the Fresno Nursing and Rehab facility in central Fresno. Her family stayed outside.

"She's a high-spirited lady, you know, and she's been going through a few things as far as high blood pressure, things of that nature," Walker said.

Walker says his aunt's age and high blood pressure have been reasons for concern during the coronavirus pandemic and the nursing home has tested her frequently.

"Finally last week they tested her again and she came back positive, which is beyond heartbreaking for us because we were doing everything to keep her safe," he said.

Administrators at the facility tell us six of their residents tested positive Saturday.

They say nobody has symptoms and they're tending to everyone to prevent their first patient death of the crisis.

But part of the protection is putting McClain in isolation.

And her nephew says when she decided now's the time to sign legal paperwork for estate planning, the facility wouldn't let her.

"They told her she had to wait until she was out of isolation and God forbid anything happens prior to that," he said.

Administrators told us McClain is not on her death bed so the situation isn't urgent.

They say they require an ombudsman to come witness the signing of legal paperwork to make sure nobody takes advantage of residents, but they won't let anyone in to see her right now.

Estate planning attorney Joe Cooper says McClain shouldn't need an ombudsman or a notary for a lot of legal paperwork, but even if she does - like for an advanced healthcare directive - the other person would not necessarily have to go in the building.

"The way things are evolving, even in litigated cases in our state, things are happening like this - by Zoom - and through different platforms like this," he said. "If you really want to make it happen, make it happen."

At least a few local skilled nursing facilities have found ways to let residents file end-of-life orders even though only a few states allow notaries to work virtually and California isn't one of them.

Walker is trying to figure out the family's next step and hoping his aunt's time doesn't run out first.
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