Will electronic wills go viral?

More and more transactions are being done digitally, but estate planning has lagged behind technology. That may be changing, however. Even before the pandemic made social distancing necessary, electronic wills were gaining legitimacy.

An electronic will (or “e-will”) is a will that is created completely electronically, without paper and ink, using digital signatures. The Uniform Law Commission (an organization that provides states with model legislation they can adopt) recently approved the Electronic Wills Act, which provides a framework for a valid electronic will. Under the act, states determine how many witnesses are required or if a notary is required, and whether the witnesses and notary must be physically present or if a remote or virtual presence is permitted. The act provides that wills must be in text form, meaning that video and audio wills are not allowed. Once the will is signed, witnessed, and notarized (if required), it is complete.

Electronic wills can have benefits in addition to convenience. If a will is stored online, it is harder to lose track of it. If the witness and notary verification process is remote it can be recorded and stored with the will, so that the process is transparent. But there are concerns that electronic wills could make the person creating the will more susceptible to undue influence if a lawyer isn’t there in person to explain the details and witness the signing.

So far only Colorado, North Dakota and Utah have enacted the Electronic Wills Act, although legislation has been introduced in Idaho, Virginia and Washington, and Arizona, Florida, Indiana and Nevada have passed their own laws authorizing e-wills.

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