Imagine you’re leaving for your vacation tomorrow and you realize you never got around to creating a last will and testament to protect your children. How great would it be to complete your last will online, in the comfort of your own home, have the finished document emailed to you, and easily sign it all before you leave for the airport?
Today, that cannot happen. Today, your will arrives in the mail or by email, from LegalZoom or an attorney, you have to sign a physical copy by hand, and find a local notary. Thankfully, many states are considering legislation to allow electronic signatures on wills and other estate planning documents.
This final frontier for electronic signatures could be months away.
Every adult should have a will, if for no other reason than to officially close out our affairs and to make sure that whatever assets we have go where we want them to go. This minimizes costly legal fees and family disputes. Most importantly, a will makes life easier on the grieving loved ones we leave behind. Nevertheless, according to the American Bar Association, 55 percent of American adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place.
In one state, Arizona, electronic signatures could be as close as one senator changing his mind.
If you live in Arizona, please consider calling Senate President Steve Yarbrough at 602-926-5863, or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please tell him you support SB 1148 allowing wills and trusts to be signed, authenticated, and witnessed through electronic means. Tell him it’s good for Arizona families and it’s good for you. It deserves a vote.
Allowing electronic signatures on wills will create easier opportunities for people to take advantage of this critical legal tool to protect their family's assets when they pass away. It will make it more affordable, simpler, and faster to create, update, or change a will with a company, an attorney’s office, or a law firm.
Interested in some of the nitty gritty on electronic signatures?
The use and acceptance of electronic signature is growing rapidly. Electronic contracts and electronic signatures are just as legal and enforceable as traditional paper contracts signed in ink.
In 2000 Congress passed the Federal ESIGN Act to facilitate and to ensure the legal validity of electronic records and electronic signatures. Most states have also passed the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) which established the legal validity of electronic records and signatures under state law. As a result, most consumer and commercial legal document may be signed electronically.
Electronic signatures are currently allowed on business merger and acquisition agreements, shareholder agreements, employment contracts, retention agreements, confidentiality agreements, Social Security Administration applications, certain IRS forms, and many more places. In certain states, lawyers are required to file documents with the state electronically as the courts are increasingly moving to electronic records.
Electronic signatures and records are more secure than paper records. The actions taken in an electronic environment can be recorded, and are traceable and auditable. And there are many reliable methods to ensure the identity of the signor. Some of those include knowledge based authentication, where you are asked questions about yourself from the public record such as where you lived 15 years ago, smart cards, biometrics such as fingerprints, video evidence, or e-notarization. Some states even allow e-notarization to be done remotely, over video conference.
Electronic signatures on wills is a great idea that’s time has come.