Times they are a changing! That is true in many aspects of society and the area of estate planning is no exception. Young adults today do not remember a time they did not have access to emails or the internet. As time progresses, more business is transacted online. It is no longer as worrisome conducting business with a person you do not meet in person. Shopping: Amazon. Groceries: ordered online. Written communication: email. Bills: auto draft.
For centuries, a last will and testament could not be valid unless it had been written by hand and signed with ink in front witnesses. Now, the electronic age has touched estate planning. Although only four states have made substantial changes, there is a national organization creating uniform rules to allow e-signatures.
A movement to allow electronic signatures and electronic wills is growing. The Uniform Law Commission has proposed laws and recently drafted the Uniform Electronic Wills Act to serve as a model for states.
Nevada was the first state to allow e-signatures. Then, Indiana, Arizona and Florida made changes to their state laws. The new movement is not without risks. Rocket Lawyer and Legal Zoom have offered wills online for years, but at the end the client must still print out the will and have it signed by a notary and witnessed to make it valid. The e-signature movement goes even further. It allows e-signatures and electronic storage of the wills.
The new movement proposes to allow a person to sign a will electronically, then send the will electronically to a notary. The witnesses still must be present with the testator when the witnesses sign. After all the signatures are gathered, then the will can be stored electronically and never printed. However, it is not as simple as that. The e-signature must be unique to the testator and be capable of validation, as well as be under the sole control of the testator. It is not clear yet how that will happen. For the will to be stored, a picture of the testator and witnesses must be stored with it, along with an audio and video of each person signing and a copy of their identification cards.
Other than the administrative burden of the e-signature process, the process is ripe for challenges. Without an attorney, witnesses and notary physically present with the testator during the execution, no one can testify as to the mental capacity of the testator. Also, no one can testify that the testator was not under duress or undue influence of another person to make the will. In fact, no one can really be sure that the testator was not really an imposter.
There is something to be said about making the estate planning process more convenient, but it should be balanced against the risk of creating a more difficult time for the family in carrying out the wishes of the testator.
The business model at the Law Office of Hugh Spires, Jr. PLLC uses the best parts of the different models. Like online companies, I can advise clients without them having to leave home. I am available at night and on weekends. However, unlike other models, my model allows the client to speak with a real person. I am available to discuss the best estate planning options with clients, instead of just answering questions like other online models. Another difference is that I will travel to the client within 50 miles of San Antonio, Texas to consult with clients and oversee the execution of the will. It's personal service with the ease of online capabilities.
Those who have not spent much time transacting business online may not be comfortable with an all online approach. That is why I offer to visit in person with the client. By discussing estate planning goals with my clients, I can assess the mental state of the client, which can avoid challenges later about whether the client knowingly and voluntarily created their estate planning. Call me at 210-874-5700 or through my website at www.texaswillslawyer.com for convenient and affordable estate planning services.