The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that traditional practices can be disrupted unexpectedly, and at any time. Luckily, in many cases, technology came to the rescue. Individuals and industries alike leveraged technology to quickly adapt their personal and business processes to a remote format. The estate planning industry is no different. Technology allowed the creation of the e-will, so that individuals can create their estate plans from the safety of their own homes. A few states are accepting e-wills today, and we eagerly await for them to be valid in all 50 states. If you had the option, would you create your will electronically? Keep reading to find out everything you should know about the latest estate planning technology.
What is an e-Will?
An e-will (electronic will) is a will that is created entirely online, from start to finish. It uses electronic signatures instead of wet signatures, which eliminates the need for a hard copy. Because an e-will is created digitally, it can be stored and transmitted online.
As you might imagine, this makes the process of estate planning much easier and accessible. It should be noted that although the technology for e-wills is now available, they are not yet valid in all 50 states. We’ll address both of these points in the following sections.
What does an e-Will Cover?
An e-will covers the same things as a traditional will, as long as it is recognized in your state. You can address a wide range of issues using an e-will, including asset distribution, naming your beneficiaries, guardianship, wishes for your final arrangements, and healthcare directives. Be sure to check out our “What is a Will” guide if you’d like to become more familiar with how you can leverage a will to protect yourself and your family.
e-Will vs. DIY Will
Before we move on, it should be clarified that an e-will is not the same thing as a DIY will. A do-it-yourself (DIY) will is a last will and testament that you’ve written yourself. Some individuals choose the DIY route because they want to opt out of working with an estate planning attorney. The main reason for this is to save money. They do this by finding free or inexpensive will-making templates or kits online. This process, however, would still require you to print out your documents and obtain witness signatures to make it valid.
In comparison, an e-will is a product created entirely online, beginning to end. The key differentiation is the use of electronic signatures instead of wet signatures, eliminating the need to create a hard copy and obtain signatures in order to validate the document. In other words, an e-will is valid in its entirely digital format as long as it is accepted by the state. In addition, an e-will is created using a trusted platform such as Trust & Will. This ensures that your will is true and valid.
Are e-Wills legal?
E-wills are legal in theory, but they are not yet accepted in all 50 states. In other words, you must make sure that the state you live in legally recognizes an electronic will as valid. History is currently being made, and it is not unlikely that e-wills will be legal in every state in the future. There are a few early-adopters, which we’ll reveal in the next section.
Before we get to that, let’s analyze what makes a traditional will valid so that we can better discuss the legality of an electronic will. A traditional will requires three components:
The will is made in writing.
The will is signed and dated by the creator of the will.
The will is signed by witnesses who observed the will maker sign their own will. Notaries are sometimes used in replacement.
In order for an e-will to be valid, state laws must be willing to adopt a digital interpretation of the traditional requirements. First, will the state recognize a will created on an electronic device as “made in writing”? Second, will that state accept e-signatures as signatures? Will they permit witnesses to observe the will maker sign the will through electronic means, such as a video chat? Last but not least, will they recognize an electronic notarization as valid?
These are the questions that state court systems must consider and agree to before an e-will can be valid in every state. We mentioned earlier that there are already some states that have answered “yes” to these questions. Our early adopters are revealed next.
Which states allow e-Wills?
A few states have updated their statutes to allow e-wills. Electronic wills are now legal in Nevada, Florida, Indiana, and Arizona. Utah and Colorado have also recently adopted the Uniform Electronic Wills Act, which is a model law created by the Uniform Laws Commission. In other instances, some state courts have accepted e-wills on a case-by-case basis. COVID-19 also caused some courts to temporarily allow remote witnessing as an emergency measure. Although e-wills are not yet valid in all 50 states, these first few early adopters are setting a trend for others to follow suit in the near future.
How do e-Wills make the estate planning process easier?
Currently, only 32 percent of Americans have a will, and 30 percent don’t know if their parents have a will. These statistics are alarming, considering estate planning is the important process of protecting your assets so that you can later pass them on to loved ones. Not only that, you can use your estate plan to establish a living will with a healthcare directive in the case you become temporarily or permanently incapacitated due to illness or injury. If COVID-19 taught us anything, it should be that it is so important to plan for the unexpected so that we can better protect ourselves and our loved ones in emergencies.
The reason why we’re seeing a big push to allow e-wills in all 50 states is because it makes the estate planning process much easier. We believe that so many Americans hesitate to set up an estate plan because they think that it’s expensive, time-consuming, and difficult. Excitingly, the advent of e-wills tackles these barriers.
Here are the benefits associated with an electronic will:
Version control: Because there is no need to print out a will that is created and validated online, it makes it easier to conduct version control. By having one digital copy, you can be sure that the version you have is always the most up-to-date. You don’t have to worry that your heirs will get their hands on the wrong copy.
Electronic signatures: States are beginning to recognize the use of electronic signatures, which means that you no longer have to print out your document in order to sign it.
Remote witnessing: Witnesses don’t have to be physically present to watch you sign a physical document. Instead, they can watch you sign the document electronically through video conferencing.
Electronic notarization: Trust & Will has partnered with Notarize.com, a service that provides electronic notarization services. This means that you no longer have to locate and travel to a public notary. This process can be done entirely online.
No travel necessary: The indirect but inferred benefit of electronic signatures is that they don’t require you to travel anywhere! This means that you can actually create your will from the comfort of your home, from start to finish. You don’t even need to get up off of your couch.
Emergency-friendly: During the COVID-19 pandemic, we experienced mandatory stay-at-home orders that did not allow us to venture outside of our homes. This was a time when many of us were re-evaluating what was important in our lives, and it’s safe to assume that estate planning became a top priority for many. In the case of an emergency, an e-will makes it possible to create an estate plan in a pinch.
How Can I Create an E-Will?
If you’re interested in creating an e-will, we have great news for you! In August 2020, Trust & Will partnered with Notarize to offer the nation’s first ever e-Will. You can now create your Will online from end to end in Nevada, Florida, Indiana, and Arizona.
If you don’t live in one of these states, please know that we’re actively working to make this service available in all 50 states. The technology is available, so we are mainly waiting for the state laws to catch up.
If you’ve been putting off creating your Will or Living Will because you thought it was difficult, expensive, or time-consuming, know that Trust & Will has lifted these barriers for you. You can now create a Will online in less than 15 minutes. We provide you with simple sets of questions to help you create your estate planning documents. Now you have no excuse — what are you waiting for? Create your Will today!
[It’s important to note that given the dynamic nature of eWill legislation, the availability and specific requirements for eWills vary from state to state. Trust & Will is working to make our platform compliant with eWill regulations in the states where they are available. For the latest updates, be sure to check out our eWill page.]
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