7 minute read

EWills and Privacy– Addressing Security Concerns, Safeguarding Personal Information, Understanding Electronic Signatures, and the Role of Blockchain Technology

Find out how digital estate planning platforms are addressing security concerns such as the safeguarding of personal information and privacy contained in eWills.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

We’re in a digital age, where information is accessible at our fingertips and technology is beginning to run every aspect of our lives. Estate planning is no exception to the digital transformation of things. The traditional paper-based Last Will and Testament now has an electronic counterpart: the eWill. As eWill validity and recognition expands, a valid concern emerges: how can we ensure the utmost privacy, security, and integrity of our personal information in this modern approach to estate planning? Trust & Will dives into the intersections between eWills, privacy, security, and the role of blockchain technology in safeguarding personal data.  

The Importance of Privacy in Estate Planning

Privacy is a fundamental aspect of estate planning. Not only does it safeguard the personal and financial details of individuals during their lifetime, it also ensures the confidentiality of their last wishes after they pass away. 

The sensitivity of this personal and private information requires a framework to protect against unauthorized access, data breaches, and potential misuse. A breach of privacy in estate planning can create negative consequences such as fraud, identity theft, or even strife amongst family members.

The recognition of eWills has widened in recent years, but at the same time, privacy concerns have also been brought to the forefront. As more people choose digital alternatives to execute and store their Wills, there are also new types of risks to consider such as unauthorized access or data leaks. While there are a number of reasons why an individual could procrastinate in setting up a Will or Trust, privacy concerns can be one of them. For example, the Pew Research Center has found that the majority of Americans feel that they have little control over the privacy of their personal data.  

Ultimately, privacy forms the bedrock of trust in estate planning. An individual will feel more empowered if they are confident that their personal and financial matters are kept confidential, and their wishes will be carried out with discretion. The estate planning industry must strike a delicate balance between convenience, security, and privacy. 

Security Concerns and Risks in the Digital Age

When it comes to eWill platforms, cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities are the top concern. Weak passwords or inadequate authentication can create openings for unauthorized individuals to gain access to sensitive information. Additionally, outdated or poorly maintained software can make platforms susceptible to attacks such as malware and ransomware. A security breach could lead to identity theft, fraud, or unauthorized changes to a Will.

Another prevalent cybersecurity threat is phishing attacks. Cybercriminals may attempt to trick users into divulging their own login credentials or other sensitive information by posing as legitimate eWill platform providers or related service providers. This social engineering tactic preys on unsuspecting users and can compromise the confidentiality of estate planning data. Education and awareness about phishing techniques are critical to empower users to recognize and avoid falling victim to scams.

Safeguarding Personal Information with eWills

Estate planning platforms and related services are working diligently to address these concerns. Robust security measures and encryption protocols safeguard personal and financial data by making sure only authorized individuals can access and modify an eWill. Innovative technologies such as blockchain, which we will touch on shortly, are gaining attention for their potential to bolster digital estate planning privacy. Adding layers of security can help better protect sensitive information from prying eyes. 

Here are some examples of security measures that are taken by eWill platforms:

  • Ongoing monitoring

  • Strong encryption protocols

  • Regular security audits

  • Routine software updates

Last but not least, platforms and services alike are providing user education regarding digital security best practices. For example, they can provide guidance on how to create strong passwords or how to recognize a phishing attempt. This type of education can empower an individual in taking an active role to safeguard their digital estate planning documents and related personal data. 

This type of proactive and multi-layered approach will ensure the integrity and safety of personal data in digital estate planning. 

Electronic Signatures: Legality and Validity in Estate Documents

A key aspect of digital estate planning is the electronic signature, which is generally considered legally valid and enforceable as long as it meets specific criteria

The legal recognition of eWills, including the use of electronic signatures, has gained substantial traction in recent years, with several states embracing these digital alternatives to the traditional paper Will with a handwritten signature. 

This recognition is playing a key role in modernizing the estate planning process, with the potential to make it more accessible and convenient for all Americans. However, of course, there is the important consideration of data and privacy specifically pertaining to the electronic signature.

To ensure the integrity and security of an electronic signature, estate planning platforms must implement robust encryption measures and authentication protocols. Not all electronic signatures are created equal, but those that are implemented securely are very secure. 

For instance, DocuSign argues that electronic signatures are more secure than wet signatures. E-signatures can provide a “trail” of sorts that provides proof of the transaction, including a tamper-evident seal and verifying the identity of the signer. 

When electronic signatures are implemented correctly, they can arguably do an even better job than wet signatures in verifying the validity of estate planning documents. 

Exploring the Advantages of Blockchain Technology

Blockchain technology offers several compelling advantages in securing electronic Will transactions. 

While the technology behind blockchain is very complicated, to put simply, it is an information-recording system with an incredibly high level of security. One of the key advantages of using blockchain in securing eWill transactions is that it’s tamper-resistant. Each eWill transaction is cryptographically linked to the previous one, creating a chain of blocks that cannot be altered without consensus from the network. This feature prevents the unauthorized modification or tampering of an eWill, which is crucial for maintaining the authenticity of someone’s wishes.

Blockchain in eWills: Enhancing Security and Transparency

Blockchain can also enhance the security and transparency of eWills. 

Instead of relying on a central server to manage and store data, blockchain distributes the information across a network of computers. This helps spread the risk of data breaches and prevents the fallout that could happen if there was a single point of failure. Each transaction is encrypted and validated by this network, making it highly secure against hacking attempts and unauthorized access. 

This level of security can also offer convenience. For example, users can control access to their eWill documents using crypto “keys,” and even providing different levels of permissions. For instance, an Executor may be granted one level of access while designated beneficiaries are granted another, allowing the Testator to keep some information confidential depending on the user. 

Blockchain also allows participants to have access to the same, up-to-date version of the eWill. This level of transparency helps to increase trust amongst interested parties. It can also help minimize any disputes regarding the validity or content of the eWill. 

Protecting Digital Assets and Cryptocurrency in eWills

Digital assets are making up an increasing proportion of today’s estates, and are an important factor to plan for in our eWills and other estate planning documents. Social media accounts, cryptocurrency, and digital art are all examples of digital assets that require protection for the next generation. Blockchain technology offers a highly secure and efficient way to safeguard your digital assets and cryptocurrency.

It’s helpful to compare blockchain to a vault. A traditional, physical vault is secured with a lock and key. Now, imagine a digital vault that is similar, but instead, it is secured by a series of numerous digital locks connected in a chain. The vault itself is a portal through which its contents are distributed to a number of locations in a network. When you add a new asset or make a transaction, yet another lock is added to the chain. The system is tamper-proof and impervious to hacking. 

Blockchain technology’s ability to protect digital assets is rapidly changing the way we shop, do business, and plan our estates. For example, artists are using blockchain to prove the authenticity of their digital artworks and ensure they get proper credit and royalties. And in real estate, blockchain helps prevent fraud and streamline the transfer of property ownership. Similarly, blockchain technology is becoming a popular tool to help secure digital assets and facilitate the secure transfer of these assets upon the passing of the owner, an important aspect of digital estate planning.

Choosing a Trustworthy eWill Platform: Factors to Consider

An important aspect of deciding to execute an eWill is choosing the right platform. How does an individual know that the platform of their choice is trustworthy? Here are some security and privacy factors to assess:

  • Encryption and Data Protection: Look for platforms that utilize strong encryption protocols to safeguard the confidentiality of eWill documents and user data. Ensure that data is encrypted both during transmission and storage, reducing the risk of unauthorized access.

  • Authentication Mechanisms: A reliable eWill platform should use robust authentication methods, such as multi-factor authentication, to verify the identity of users. This helps prevent unauthorized access to eWills and adds an extra layer of security. (Have you ever logged into a website, which then asked you to verify your identity by entering a code that was emailed or texted to you? That is an example of multi-factor authentication.)

  • Data Storage and Backups: Consider whether the platform stores data securely. Regular backups are essential to prevent data loss and ensure the availability of the eWill at a moment’s notice.

  • Security Testing and Audits: Research whether the platform undergoes regular security testing and audits by third-party experts. This helps identify vulnerabilities and ensures that security measures are up-to-date.

  • User Education and Awareness: Evaluate if the platform provides resources and guidance to users about best practices for data security and privacy. Educating users about potential risks and how to mitigate them is crucial in protecting eWill information.

  • Response to Security Incidents: Inquire about the platform's incident response protocols in case of a security breach. A prompt and transparent response to such incidents is essential in maintaining user trust.

  • Transparent Privacy Policy: Review the platform's privacy policy to understand how they handle user data and what information they collect and share. Review Trust & Will’s privacy policy here

A Future of Secure and Private eWills with Blockchain Technology

eWill recognition and acceptance is widening, and this digital era, it seems like only a matter of time before digital Estate Plans are proliferated in the U.S. However, as the estate planning industry adapts to a digital model, it is paramount that providers take security and privacy into account. Platforms such as Trust & Will are already trusted for their bank-level encryption and security delivered to customers.

It is very possible that blockchain technology will further secure eWill privacy and data in the near future. Because it is decentralized, blockchain is tamper-resistant meaning that it has the potential to become the bedrock of the estate planning industry. While early adopters may be confident in the security of eWills today, soon enough, many individuals will enjoy a sense of confidence and trust when planning their digital estate. 

In the meantime, it is imperative that anyone interested in executing an eWill selects the right platform that offers a high level of security and data integrity. 

For example, Trust & Will is the only estate planning platform in the U.S. that has achieved SOC2 Type I compliance. Obtaining this compliance ensures the highest level of protection for customer data and privacy. The platform not only provides bank-level encryption, it partners with Drata to continuously monitor its internal security controls. Find out how you can create a private and secure digital Estate Plan through Trust & Will today. Get started 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.