In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, one of the things that usually gets shuffled to the bottom of the deck is heading to the estate attorney's office to do your Will. Wouldn't it be great if you could tackle that task remotely, without the need to physically go to the attorney's office? What if you could discuss your plans with an attorney via Skype, review drafts of your documents electronically, and then sign and have your Will properly witnessed all without leaving the comfort of your own home? The day where this is a reality may be coming sooner than you think.
The Uniform Law Commission (ULC) approved in July 2019 the Uniform Electronic Wills Act (the E-Wills Act). The E-Wills Act translates traditional wills act formalities—writing, signature, and attestation—to allow a will to be written in an electronic medium, electronically signed and electronically validated. The Act and accompanying information are available on the website of the ULC (www.uniformlaws.org). With the passing of the E-Wills Act, each state is now free to adopt the Act as they see fit. The real question is which portions of the Act will states focus on adopting.
Why all the fuss over e-wills? Simply put, we bank, shop, communicate, basically live our entire lives through devices, so we can be expected to demand legal services online.
So What Is An E-Will?
An e-will can be in an electronic form, rather than on physical paper, but it must be actual text when it is signed. To be clear, you can dictate a will, but you have to use software to transcribe that dictation before it’s signed to be a valid e-will. The E-Will can also be signed electronically. The E-Wills Act keeps the requirement of witnesses but allows a state to require that the witnesses be physically present or to relax that requirement by allowing the witnesses to be remote and present only by video and audio means. This means that a state that fully adopts the E-Wills Act could allow people to sign their wills via Skype or video chat with their lawyer from the comfort of their own homes or offices. This would remove some of the barriers of access to counsel to prepare these important documents. In theory, this might also help to make the process of establishing a will with a lawyer more affordable as well.
There is a lot to think and debate about with this topic, and while New York has not yet made any moves to adopt any portion of the E-Wills Act, as a one of the leaders in legal development and legal technology, we can assume that some measures of the E-Wills Act are likely to be given serious consideration in the next few years.