7 minute read

eWills: Empowering Everyone to Plan for the Future Digitally

eWill adoption is increasing, providing improved accessibility and empowering more individuals to plan for the future digitally.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

Online estate planning platform Trust & Will has helped advance the adoption of eWills, and it’s giving the estate planning industry a digital makeover. Until recent times, individuals who wanted to have an estate plan in place were required to create a paper Will. While there is nothing wrong with the creation of physical Wills, state laws and related requirements do create accessibility issues. States that adopt eWills and recognize them as valid are helping increase accessibility and thus are allowing more individuals to feel empowered to plan their futures.

Introduction: the digital transformation of estate planning

The estate planning industry is undergoing a transformation thanks to digital products and services. A number of factors are driving change, such as the increasing availability and affordability of online estate planning tools, a growing demand for digital-first services, and a need for an outdated industry to adapt to modern advancements. 

Online estate planning tools, such as those provided by Trust & Will, are making it easier than ever for people to create their own estate plans without prior knowledge or the need for a lawyer. As such, these services are much more affordable. This is not to say that an individual shouldn’t consult an attorney as needed. However, they are empowered to create sophisticated estate plans on their own thanks to these services. 

The demand for digital-first services is also driving the transformation of the estate planning industry. Most consumers now expect that services can be accessed and completed online, even from mobile devices. The estate planning industry is no exception and is required to adapt.  Digitally created estate plans are advantageous due to their convenience, affordability, and accessibility.

It is also important to address the regulatory aspect of the adoption of eWills. While providers and users alike are largely willing to embrace technology, regulations must also change in order to make the digitization of estate planning possible. Regulations that determine the validity of Wills vary from state to state, although some of the key requirements are similar. Thus, regulators must allow the following in order for eWills to be recognized as legally valid:

  • A digitally-created document that is also stored digitally

  • Digital signatures

  • Remote witnessing

  • Remote notary services

  • Video conferencing for said witnessing and notarization

There are currently six states that have adopted the Uniform Law Commission’s Electronic Wills Act, along with the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It has been introduced in two additional states. Other states may recognize an eWill on a case-by-case basis.

How eWills work: simplifying the process

eWills are created and stored digitally in a number of ways. One way is to use a software program that allows you to create your Will online through a series of prompts and questions. Another method is to use an online service that provides eWill templates that you fill out on your own. 

An important issue with regards to a Will is the execution of the document to make it legally valid in your local jurisdiction. If your state allows it, an eWill can also be witnessed and notarized online through the use of video conferencing and digital, verified signatures.

This makes it possible to create a legally valid Will digitally (an eWill) from end-to-end. Once the eWill is created, then it can be stored digitally through the platform used, as well as in a digital vault (a secure cloud storage system.) Some probate courts may even allow for the digital filing of the Will, meaning that it never once has to be printed out from start to finish.

Accessible estate planning for all: overcoming barriers

Estate planning is a critical process for anyone to complete, regardless of their background or financial status. It doesn’t just involve making arrangements for the transfer of property, it’s also about protecting the assets you do have, creating a tax-advantaged strategy, and protecting those you love.

However, there have historically been barriers that have challenged the accessibility to estate planning:

  • Geographical limitations: One of the major challenges in estate planning is dealing with geographical limitations. Many families and individuals have assets spread across different states or even countries. This can complicate the process of creating a unified estate plan, as different jurisdictions have varying laws and regulations concerning inheritance and probate. Coordinating with legal professionals in multiple locations can be time-consuming and costly, leading to delays in finalizing estate plans.

  • Time constraints: Estate planning requires careful consideration and attention to detail. However, people often postpone this crucial task due to their busy lifestyles and pressing responsibilities. Procrastination can lead to unfortunate consequences, as an unexpected event could occur before an estate plan is in place. Without proper planning, assets may be subject to intestacy laws, potentially leading to disputes among family members and unintended beneficiaries.

  • Physical constraints: In most states, a Will requires a physical aspect in order to be considered valid. More specifically, Wills must be handwritten or typed, printed, and then signed (with wet ink) in the physical presence of witnesses. Further, if the Will is to be notarized, then it must be signed in the physical presence of a notary public. 

  • Cost: Traditionally, estate planning required individuals to work with an attorney. The cost of working with an attorney, as well as the psychological effort of identifying and working with a professional, could be prohibitive for some individuals, thus barring them from enacting an estate plan.

The COVID-19 pandemic served as a catalyst for the adoption of eWills. This is because the inaccessibility of traditional estate planning became impossible to ignore during this time. Due to lockdowns, social distancing guidelines and limited mobility, it was near impossible for individuals to create a legally valid Will in the traditional manner.

Due to the demand of many individuals who urgently needed to create or update their estate plans during this time, states were more willing to recognize eWills as valid. Many created an emergency exception for video conferencing, digital signatures, and digital notary services that make eWills possible. 

Overcoming barriers with eWills

eWills are a modern solution to barriers and accessibility issues that are posed by traditional Wills. The use of online platforms allow individuals to create, store, and update their estate plans easily, and often at a fraction of the cost. Further, many will argue that digital Wills are more secure. First, estate planning platforms such as Trust & Will typically provide strong security measures to protect sensitive information. Further, digital vaults (cloud based storage solutions) make it easier to make sure only the correct, up-to-date version of the Will is made available when the Testator passes away.

Here is a summary of the advantages associated with eWills:

1. Accessibility: eWills can be accessed from anywhere, making it easier for individuals with assets in different locations to manage their estate plans seamlessly.

2. Flexibility: The Trust & Will platform provides guidance and on-demand support, simplifying the estate planning process and allowing individuals to tailor their plans to their unique circumstances.

3. Remote execution: With eWills, witnessing and notarization requirements can be fulfilled remotely, bypassing the need for physical presence and reducing the impact of geographical limitations and time constraints.

4. Real-time updates: Digital wills can be easily updated to reflect changing circumstances, such as the purchase of a new home or changes in family members.

5. Security: Encryption and other security measures protect sensitive information, providing peace of mind for users.

The role of Trust & Will in advancing eWills

Trust & Will is playing a pivotal role in advancing eWill adoption in the United States. It is an online estate planning platform that both simplifies and modernizes an archaic process, featuring a user-friendly interface and a range of affordable and customizable tools and services.

The digital platform is making estate planning more accessible to a broader audience. For instance, a beginner is more likely to take proactive steps in creating their Will when they can do so from the comfort of their own home and at a fraction of the cost. A user-friendly platform that asks simple questions and prompts to build the Will makes the process much less intimidating. Further, Trust & Will allows users to tailor their estate plans to meet their unique circumstances, whether they wish to set up a Trust or create a Guardianship arrangement. 

Trust & Will is a key player in the regulatory space as well. The platform enabled a user to create the first eWill (from start to finish) in U.S. history. This historic event was followed by the creation of eWills for the first time in a number of states. Partnering with platforms such as Notarize, a trusted online notarization platform, is making the creation of a legally valid eWill possible. This has created the momentum for additional states to begin recognizing the use of eWills, and thus allowing proliferation to become possible. 

Benefits of eWills: convenience, security, and peace of mind

eWills are a convenient, secure, and affordable way to create a Will, so long as it is recognized as legally valid in your state. Here are some of the benefits of eWills:

  • Convenience: eWills can be created online, so you can do it from the comfort of your own home.

  • Security: eWills are stored securely online, so you can be sure that your wishes will be carried out.

  • Affordability: Wills created online through a digital platform are typically the fraction of the cost of working with an estate planning attorney.

  • Peace of mind: The option of creating an eWill is making it harder to procrastinate on getting one’s affairs in order and obtaining peace of mind.

eWills and the future of estate planning

To be clear, the technology used to create eWills are not new. However, state regulations regarding the validity of Wills historically have not changed in decades if not centuries. This creates a social issue where traditional estate planning presents a number of obstacles and barriers for many individuals.

The COVID-19 pandemic created an urgency surrounding the logistics of enacting a legally valid Will. Lawmakers thus began to allow eWills on an emergency or case-by-case basis.

However, with the pandemic being over, it is clear that eWills are here to stay. Thanks to technology, a democratization of estate planning is taking place. Thanks to digital platforms like Trust & Will, estate planning is now available for the people. More and more states are beginning to adopt laws that recognize eWills as legally valid. eWills are convenient, affordable, and secure, meaning that individuals who previously were reluctant to create an estate plan can now do so. 

Over time, this will create a large, positive social impact where a diverse array of Americans will have estate plans in place to secure their assets, protect their loved ones, and are more empowered to plan for their futures.

At Trust & Will, we’re here to help keep things simple. You can create a fully customizable, state-specific estate plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning and settlement  options 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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Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.