Digital Wills

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Digital Wills

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Nolos Quicken WillMaker & Trust, Trust & Will, US Legal Wills, Total Legal, Do Your Own Will, Rocket Lawyer, FreeWill, Tomorrow, Willing, and Gentreo are among the most often mentioned electronic will service providers.
  • There are several changing legislations surrounding electronic wills and trusts and their signing.
  • In general, wills do not need to be notarized in order to be valid.

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Because of the relative newness of this micro-industry, there is not an equally applicable metric available to identify the ‘top’ companies. For example, many of the entrants on this list are still in the funding stage and reports of their revenues are sparse and/or non-existent. As such, another method of determining the companies for inclusion was developed. Several top lists prepared by external outlets were located. Lists from reputable and highly regarded finance outlets like Investopedia, The Balance, and US News & World Report have been published within the past several months which name their picks for top digital estate planning services.

Each of these lists was cross-referenced with the others to determine companies which are mentioned multiple times in order to produce the players in the market ultimately included in this research report. Given that the three companies expected to be found (Trust & Will, FreeWill, and Tomorrow) appeared on at least one of the lists, this method of discovery was determined to be the most viable. Though only eight companies were asked for, additional companies have been included to provide as complete a look at this micro-industry as possible.

Nolos Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2021

Appearing on all three of the lists used for reference, NOLOs Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2021 provides a downloadable suite of documents for a one-time fee of $99.99.
  • According to their website, “Nolo, a wholly owned subsidiary of MH Sub I, LLC, is the integration of some of the Internet's first legal sites, including Nolo.com, Divorcenet.com and AllLaw.com. These sites were combined with the ExpertHub technology platform in 2011 to form the Nolo Network.”
  • Nolo’s partnership with Quicken for this product makes sense as Quicken has been a leader in the financial services industry for over 30 years. In 2016, Quicken “became a fully independent company, led by members of the early Quicken team, to help a new generation of customers make the most of their money. Today Quicken is the best-selling personal finance software in the US. We have expanded our lineup to include Quicken on the Web and the Quicken Mobile App for iOS and Android so customers can manage their finances anytime, anywhere, on any device.”
  • As this is a branded partnership with Nolo and Quicken, the organizational structures of each company are not being provided as they are not likely to be germane to the product. Nolo’s team of legal experts with over 50 years of self-help experience is the key value driver for this product.
  • The partnership’s WillMaker 2021 software provides the following downloadable and editable documents for the one-time fee:
    • Legal Will
    • Revocable Living Trust
    • Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
    • Final Arrangements
    • Health Care Directive (Living Will & Health Care Power of Attorney)
    • Information for Caregivers and Survivors
    • Letter to Survivors
    • Property Worksheet
    • Revocation of Health Care Directive
    • Executor Documents
    • Affidavit of Domicile
    • Employee Death Benefits Letter
    • Executor's Letter to Financial Institution
    • General Notice of Death
    • Notice to Creditor of Death
    • Executor's Checklist
    • Home & Family Documents
    • Authorization for International Travel With Minor
    • Authorization for Minor's Medical Treatment
    • Authorization to Drive a Motor Vehicle
    • Child Care Agreement
    • Child Care Instructions
    • Elder Care Agreement
    • Pet Care Agreement
    • Housekeeping Services Agreement
    • Housesitting Instructions
    • Notice to Put Name on Do Not Call List
    • Subscription or Membership Cancellation form
    • Temporary Guardianship
    • Authorization for Care of Minor
    • Personal Finance Documents
    • General Bill of Sale
    • Security Agreement for Borrowing Money
    • Limited Power of Attorney for Finances
    • Notice to Terminate Joint Credit Card Account
    • Promissory Note
    • Revocation of Power of Attorney
  • Unlike other products included in this research, WillMaker does not appear to offer any cloud storage options of documents prepared using the software. Thus, users must save copies of their documents on their own (either digitally or physically).
  • WillMaker is available for use by residents of the United States, except those residing in Louisiana. Per the product’s FAQ section, this is because “Louisiana law is derived from Napoleonic code. This makes Louisiana estate planning law very different from the laws of the rest of the country, and WillMaker doesn’t address Louisiana’s unique requirements.”
  • Updates to laws and regulations during the year are made by “Nolo’s expert attorneys (who) continuously update WillMaker to meet the laws of each state.” Customers receive automatic updates to the software when connected to the internet.
  • The one-price software allows wills and trusts to be created for multiple individuals.

Trust & Will

Like WillMaker, Trust & Will appears on each of the three lists referenced for inclusion in this research. According to Investopedia, “customers can create their estate planning documents quickly and simply. The company offers an easy way for you to decide which option is best through the Get Started section of their site, and then fill in relevant details using an interview-style format.”
  • According to Craft, Trust & Will was founded in 2017 and is an “online service providing legal forms and information. The Company's solution is private, intelligent, and web-based to help individuals and couples protect their physical assets, digital assets, and health directives.”
  • To date, the company has received a total of $23 million in funding, including $15 million during their last round in November 2020. Posted investors include Link Ventures, JSV, Revolution, WTI, Techstars, and Rosecliff.
  • A detailed look at the company’s org structure was not uncovered within the public domain, but Craft provides the following as it applies to their leadership team:
    • Cody Barbo, Founder & CEO
    • Daniel Goldstein, Founder & COO
    • Brian Lamb, Founder & Head of Product
    • Patrick Hicks, Legal Counsel
    • Dan Kehr, Legal Advisor
  • The company offers three main product solutions: wills, trust, and plans for guardianship.
  • Wills are customized and state-specific. Pricing is $89 for individuals or $159 for couples. Unlimited updates and/or changes can be made to the documents in the first year, and additional years of change privileges can be purchased for $19 per year.
  • Included with each will are the following documents:
    • Last Will & Testament
    • HIPAA Authorization
    • Living Will
    • Power of Attorney
  • The company’s trust-based estate plan offers clients a more comprehensive plan for preparing their “customized and state-specific estate planning documents to nominate guardians for children, list assets, and outline what should happen in a medical emergency.”
  • Pricing for trusts are $399 for individuals and $499 for couples. This includes one-year of unlimited updates. Additional years of change privileges can be purchased for $39 per year.
  • Included with each trust are the following documents:
    • Revocable Living Trust
    • Schedule of Assets
    • Last Will & Testament (Pour Over Will)
    • HIPAA Authorization
    • Living Will
    • Power of Attorney
    • Certification of Trust
  • Guardian documents can be prepared to provide directives for the care of minor children when no will is in place. Trust & Will offers these for $39 for individuals or $69 for couples. Unlimited updates are included for the first year and are $12 per year thereafter.
  • As is stated in their FAQ section, Trust & Will are “not lawyers, and we are not a law firm. We provide access to ‘fill-in’ forms and software you use to create estate planning documents. Our software was built with the input from incredibly talented lawyers, and we strive to build the best software in the business to assist you.”
  • The company does offer additional support from an attorney as an add-on for some of their customers. Attorney support is $200 per year and includes “unlimited calls on covered matters and legal help with a live, experienced, vetted Estate Planning Attorney.”
  • Attorney Support is available to clients residing in California, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
  • Financial Advisors can utilize the company’s offerings to add value to their clients. If a Financial Advisors signs up on the site, their clients are able to purchase Trust & Will’s products for a 10% discount.
  • Further details about Trust & Will’s products have been collected by Kevin Mercadante for the website MoneyUnder30.
    • Wills and trust documents (but not guardianship arrangements) will be reviewed by Trust & Will’s estate planning experts.
    • Trust & Will’s Share Access feature allows users to share their documents with their loved ones, their financial advisors, and other professionals easily. That way any executor, trustee, or family members can virtually access your estate plan. This means there’s no need to keep filing cabinets full of documents since all of the folks who will need a copy will have it readily available online.
    • Trust & Will uses bank level security to protect and encrypt all information transferred and stored.
  • Trusts & Will partners with many third-parties. Some of these include

US Legal Wills

Launched in 2000 and included on both the Investopedia and US News & World Report lists, US Legal Wills is “an independent organization that works with U.S.-based lawyers to create legal documents, including for expats and those who have assets in Canada or the UK. Services are available in all U.S. states except Louisiana and provide some of the best values and discounts of all the websites reviewed.” The company’s website states they are operated by PartingWishes Inc.
  • US Legal Wills offers the following products:
    • Last Will and Testament — $39.95
    • Mirror Will — $23.97
    • Power of Attorney — $29.95
    • Living Will — $19.95
    • Expatriate Will for Assets Held in Canada (except Québec) — $39.95
    • Expatriate Will for Assets Held in Québec — $39.95
    • Expatriate Will for Assets Held in the United States — $39.95
    • Expatriate Will for Assets Held in the United Kingdom — $39.95
    • Life Locker for Storing Personal Information — $29.95
    • Attorney Review of Complicated Will, Power of Attorney or Living Will — $69.00
  • Each of their products include one year of storage and unlimited updates. Additional years or blocks of years can be purchased.
  • All data is protected. “Full privacy and security of all of your information. All communication over the Internet is fully encrypted using 256-bit SSL security. Also, your data is stored in a fully encrypted format on our servers --- nobody can see what you've written (not even us). Daily backups of all of your information to protect against catastrophic data loss.”
  • “Furthermore, physical protection of our primary systems includes:
    • Fire detection and fire suppression systems with dry pipe pre-action sprinkler systems
    • N + 1 redundant power supplies, providing dual power feeds and backup batteries, water coolant systems and generators
    • N + 1 redundant climate control, providing primary and backup chiller units, cooling towers, and water storage
    • Local network operations center (NOC) for monitoring all data center operations
    • 24x7 monitoring and support of network connection and server availability
    • 24x7 uniformed guard service with interior and exterior closed-circuit television surveillance
    • Electronic access at all data center entrances, including biometric hand scanners
    • Electronic key management systems and individually keyed cabinets”
  • The company states they have “funding set aside to support the cost of hosting member information for a number of years into the future based on today's prices. This money is used as an insurance policy to ensure that even if USLegalWills.com ceases to accept new members, that existing member information will still be maintained. At today's prices (which we anticipate to fall) even if USLegalWills.com received no additional revenue, hosting of member data is secured for another 25 years. Our intention is to increase this fund to support ongoing costs for a minimum of 100 years, which is well beyond the advance directive needs of any of our members.”
  • A published organizational structure was not located, but the leadership team includes:
    • Tim Hewson, CEO
    • Henry Raud, President and Chief Technology Officer
    • Advisor — Bradley M. Sniderman, Attorney at Law
    • Advisor — Cindy Harm, BA, MBA
    • Advisor — John Lumsden, CISSP
    • Advisor — Gordon Allison, BSc

Total Legal

Appearing on all three instances of best lists from Investopedia, US News and World Report, and The Balance, Total Legal was founded in 2003 and is self-described as a service of Pro Se Planning, Inc. The company was founded on the "belief that people can create their own high quality legal documents if they have access to good tools and facts. The company also operates DivorceWriter.com, the leading self-help divorce document site. TotalLegal.com is a leading self-help legal document website. However, this site does not provide legal advice and use of this site is not a substitute for hiring an attorney licensed to practice in your state."
  • According to Investopedia, the “biggest advantage of TotalLegal is their monthly subscription plan. For $9.95 a month, or $89 a year, you get access to free legal services including a free consultation, attorney-reviewed documents, and a free will with free updates each year providing the most comprehensive resources for those needing some guidance.”
  • A simple last will and testament document can be created for $19.95 and is available for updating and delivery for 60 days.
  • Based upon review of the company’s website, Total Legal does not house digital copies of the documents created unless the Total Legal subscription is purchased. After the interview process is complete, the documents are either printed at home or sent to customers by Total Legal and then they must be finalized with witness signatures pursuant to individual state laws.
  • No third party partnerships were located on either the company’s website nor through a targeted search of the public domain.
  • No data on the company's executive team or organizational structure was located within the public domain.

Do Your Own Will

Do Your Own Will is another company appearing on all three of the reference lists. The company is a subsidiary of Trial Data, Inc. which “was founded in 1999 in Seattle, Washington in an effort to conveniently deliver accurate and reliable legal information over the Internet.”
  • According to their website, “DoYourOwnWill.com is 100% free and doesn't accept payments anywhere on the site.”
  • The company generates “revenue by placing relevant advertisements along the bottom and side of the web page and through affiliate relationships with other companies.”
  • The site’s generated documents are stated to be valid in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • The following documents can be created on the site:
    • Last Will and Testament
    • Living Will
    • Durable Power of Attorney
    • General Power of Attorney
    • Pet Guardian Trust
  • Documents are created via a step-by-step question and answer form and can be printed in Word or PDF form at completion.
  • A partnership exists with Ladder for life insurance quotes.
  • DoYourOwnWill is not a legal service and does not offer legal advice. Their disclaimer states they do “not provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies.”
  • No information on the executive team was found within an extensive search of the public domain.

Rocket Lawyer

Rocket Lawyer’s estate planning services appear on all three of the reference lists.
  • According to Investopedia, “founded in 2008, Rocket Lawyer offers online legal services that include documents and attorney services.”
  • The company is privately-owned and according to Craft has amassed $64.7 million in funding.
  • Rocket Lawyer offers two pricing models — subscription and per-document.
  • Non members can create estate planning documents for $39.95 each. Members paying $39.99 per month have access to hundreds of types of documents as well as free and discounted attorney services.
  • Any of the site’s documents are created through an interview-style question and answer form and their “software will build a document that is tailored to (your) state and situation.”
  • “Rocket Lawyer uses SSL (Secure Socket Layers) for data transfer, creating a secure tunnel protected by 128-bit or higher AES encryption. To protect private information from unauthorized access, they have designed policies and controls to safeguard the collection, use, and disclosure of information.”
  • Though attorney services can be purchased (individually or as part of the subscription), it is important to note that “Rocket Lawyer is not a lawyer referral service or a law firm, does not provide legal advice or representation (except in certain jurisdictions), and is not intended as a substitute for an attorney or law firm. In Utah, Rocket Lawyer is a nonlawyer-owned company authorized to provide legal services, including the practice of law, by the Utah Supreme Court.”
  • Some of the company’s third-party partnerships include:
  • The company’s executive leadership team includes:
    • Charley Moore, Founder and CEO
    • Paul Bussi, Chief Revenue Officer
    • Megan Derguti, Vice President of People Operations
    • Rob Elhardt, Vice President of Product Operations
    • John Hyun, Vice President of Finance
    • Erik Riegler, Senior Vice President, Legal and General Counsel

FreeWill

FreeWill is included on the US News and World Report list and on the lists from The Balance as well as being mentioned as a competitor expected to be found within the scope of the project.
  • According to their site, FreeWill offers all of their customizable documents for free. Simply follow the prompts, fill in the data, and print the forms.
  • As part of their legal disclaimer, the site reads, “we understand that online estate planning isn’t suitable for everyone. If you have complex needs, we encourage you to seek legal counsel. As you answer questions on FreeWill, we’ll point out where an attorney may be a better fit. We’ll also provide your responses in an easy-to-read summary, which you can print and bring to your attorney to save time.”
  • They offer document creation for:
    • Wills
    • Trusts
    • Beneficiary Designations
    • Advance Healthcare Directive
    • Financial Power of Attorney
  • Creating an account on the site allows information to be saved, and thus edited and reprinted at any time.
  • The company acknowledges that some customers may have more complex needs as they plan their estate, therefore they “provide users with links to several attorney-finding resources, including the directory of the ACTEC fellows and the American Bar Association’s Hire a Lawyer page.”
  • FreeWill was named by The Balance as the best online option for those who want to leave portions of their estate to charity. This is likely because FreeWill actively works with non-profits to provide tools to make it easy for their donors to plan bequests, qualified charitable distributions, and stock gifts.
  • Some of their non-profit partners are:
  • Additionally, the company continually adds to its FreeWill Fellows program which is a “group of attorneys with expertise in estate planning, committed to expanding Americans’ access to law, fostering innovation in legal services, and increasing charitable giving. They help support our mission by providing insights and updates regarding developments in the T&E laws of their jurisdiction, and may publish blog-length articles on our website to help raise public awareness of important estate planning considerations.”
  • No outline of organization structure was found, however the company is helmed by Jenny Xia Spradling and Patrick Schmitt who serve as co-CEOs and their advisory team is led by Robert Sitkoff (John L. Gray Professor of Law, Harvard Law School) and William P. LaPiana (Rita and Joseph Solomon Professor of Wills, Trusts, and Estates, New York Law School)

Tomorrow

Though only included on The Balance’s list of online willmakers, Tomorrow has been included because it is the only entry that is app-based.
  • According to their website, “Tomorrow Ideas, Inc. was co-founded in 2016 in Seattle, WA by Dave Hanley CEO, Joshua Heckathorn COO, and Erik Kjell.”
  • The company put together a team of 52 attorneys from across the country to design and build an app that anyone can use to craft a legal will, tailors each will to the laws of the state, and also allows families and other stakeholder to be connected via the app which officially launched in July 2017.

Willing

Though only referenced in The Balance’s list of online will options, Willing has also been covered by the New York Times, the International Business Times, and TechCruch.
  • The Balance describes Willing as an “online will making service developed by a team of attorneys”, but no company history is provided on the website.
  • Pitchbook data indicates the company was founded in 2014 (by Eliam Medina) but was acquired by MetLife in 2019. No disclosure was made on the financial details of the merger.
  • Of the acquisition, Todd Katz, executive vice president of Group Benefits at MetLife, stated, “Willing serves a digitally native audience unlikely to go see an attorney for estate planning services and complements Hyatt Legal, our existing legal services offering, and positions us to lead the industry by offering customers more choices in how they address their estate planning needs.”
  • Search of the public domain has not revealed any major news or announcements from the company since the MetLife acquisition.
  • The site offers customers the ability to complete the following documents in all 50 states:
    • Last Will and Testament
    • Living Will
    • Durable Power of Attorney
    • Revocable Living Trust
    • Transfer on Death Deed
  • Estate planning documents can be started online for free, customers only pay for documents when they decide to print and sign. Document pricing appears to be $69 each.
  • Note: Login and signup features on the website prohibit extensive investigation of pricing and product features.

Gentreo

Though only included on the US News and World Report list of online estate planning resources, Gentreo has been covered by CNBC, ABC News, and Consumer Reports.

REGULATIONS AROUND E-WILLS

This section of the research project provides an overview of key regulations governing the creation of electronic wills. Please note that much of this section contains data verbatim from its sources because of potential legal ramifications if data is misinterpreted. Information contained within this section, and the entire project, is prepared for informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice.
  • The Uniform Law Commission (ULC) drafted the following in 2019:
    • “The Uniform Electronic Wills Act permits testators to execute an electronic will and allows probate courts to give electronic wills legal effect. Most documents that were traditionally printed on paper can now be created, transferred, signed, and recorded in electronic form. Since 2000 the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) and a similar federal law, E-SIGN have provided that a transaction is not invalid solely because the terms of the contract are in an electronic format. But UETA and E-SIGN both contain an express exception for wills, which, because the testator is deceased at the time the document must be interpreted, are subject to special execution requirements to ensure validity and must still be executed on paper in most states. Under the new Electronic Wills Act, the testator’s electronic signature must be witnessed contemporaneously (or notarized contemporaneously in states that allow notarized wills). States will have the option to include language that allows remote witnessing. The act will also address recognition of electronic wills executed under the law of another state. For a generation that is used to banking, communicating, and transacting business online, the Uniform Electronic Wills Act will allow online estate planning while maintaining safeguards to help prevent fraud and coercion.”
  • The full text (23 pages) of the Uniform Electronic Wills Act can be viewed here. The language was presented to the annual conference of the Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and was approved and recommended for enactment in all states.
  • With regard to digital signatures the act includes the following language: “In commercial and other contexts not involving a will, the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (1999) (UETA) validates the use of electronic signatures. UETA§ 7(a). However, UETA contains an express exception for wills and testamentary trusts, making the E-Wills Act necessary if a legislature wants to permit electronic wills. UETA§ 3(b). As of 2019, all but three states have adopted UETA, with most of the enactments occurring in 2000 and 2001. The federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-SIGN) includes a similar exception. 15 U.S.C. 7003(a)(1). Many documents authorizing nonprobate transfers of property are already executed electronically, and property owners have become accustomed to being able to use electronic beneficiary designations in connection with various will substitutes. The idea of permitting an electronic designation to control the transfer of property at death is already well accepted.”
  • According to an article written by the co-chairs of the drafting committee for the American Bar Association, “the Act will bridge the gap in UETA, allowing a testator to execute a will electronically, while maintaining protections for the testator that are available to those executing traditional wills (usually on paper). The Act also creates execution requirements that, if followed, will result in a valid self-proving will (one admitted without a court hearing to determine validity if no one contests the will). The Act retains the traditional wills act formalities of writing, signature, and attestation but adapts them. The ULC drafting committee decided to require that a will exist in the electronic equivalent of text when it is electronically signed, thus precluding audio and video wills, unless transcribed prior to the testator’s signature. The committee was concerned that issues of proof and preservation of oral-only records would be too much for the legal system to adapt to now. History will tell whether we were wise or timid. The electronic will must be signed in the physical presence of the requisite number of witnesses (normally, two) or in their virtual presence in the two states that currently allow it. Based on discussions with practitioner groups around the country, we believe some states are more likely to accept attestation by remote (virtually present) witnesses than other states. Accordingly, the Act is designed to allow a state to retain or drop remote witness attestation.”
  • The ULC provides links to the bill language in states with current pending legislations surrounding e-wills: Washington, North Dakota, Idaho, Virginia, and Colorado.
  • According to a January 2021 article from the Elder Law Answers, “so far only Utah has enacted the Electronic Wills Act, but other states have their own laws that allow electronic wills. Nevada, Indiana, Arizona, and Florida have passed laws authorizing e-wills. California, the District of Columbia, New Hampshire, Texas, and Virginia have considered e-will legislation, but have not yet adopted a law. During the coronavirus pandemic, New York and Connecticut have issued executive orders allowing for the temporary electronic notarization or execution of wills.”

California

  • Based upon data collected from LegalZoom, to create a valid will in California, the following basic requirements must be true:
    • The testator must be at least 18 years old.
    • The testator must be of sound mind, which means capable of making decisions and reasoning.
    • The will must be signed by one of the following: Testator, or Some other person in the testator’s name in the testator’s presence, by the testator’s direction (Conservator under court order to make a will.)
    • A California will must be signed by at least two people who are present at the same time.
    • A will cannot be oral; it must be in writing.
  • Further, the state of California recognizes holographic wills. “Handwritten wills that are written by the person making the will, and have not been witnessed or notarized, are called holographic wills.”
  • Nolo states, with regard to California wills, “To finalize your will in California, you must:
    • Sign your will in front of two witnesses.
    • Have your witnesses sign your will at the same time as each other -- either when they witness your signing your will or (if you've already signed the will) when they witness you acknowledging your signature on your will. Cal. Prob. Code § 6110.
    • Neither witness should be a beneficiary of the will. California law presumes that any gift made to a witness of the will was made under duress, and the witness could lose the gift if it is more than what he or she would have received under the intestacy law. Cal. Prob. Code § 6112.
  • According to Law.com, “A valid will in California must be in writing, signed by the testator (Prob. Code Section 6110). This means a physical writing. Electronic documents, with electronic signatures, are valid for many transactions in California under the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (Civ. Code Sections 1633.1–1633.17). The UETA, however, does not apply to wills (Civ. Code Section 1633.3(b)(1)).”
  • The article continues to state, “the common law in some states has recognized the validity of electronic wills. In Taylor v. Holt (134 S.W.3d 830 (Tenn. 2003)), the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld a will written by the testator on his computer and signed with an electronic version of his signature. The will was witnessed by two people who were physically present at the testator’s singing, and who signed a specially drafted attestation clause acknowledging the testator’s electronic signature (Taylor v. Holt, supra, 134 S.W.3d at p. 830-831). The Tennessee court found that the electronic signatures complied with Tennessee law allowing a signature on a will to be made by ‘any other symbol or methodology executed or adopted by a party with intention to authenticate a writing or record’.”
  • Currently, in California, a will can be created electronically but must be physically printed and signed.
  • It is anticipated that California law will be updated to allow for electronic signatures as part of the e-Wills act language from the ULC.
  • A will in California does not need to be notarized to be valid.

New York

  • According to Nolo, to validate a will in the state of New York, the following basic requirements are needed:
    • “Sign or acknowledge your will in front of two witnesses
    • Declare to your witnesses that the document you are signing or acknowledging is your will, and your witnesses must sign your will in front of you.
    • Sign at the end of the will; New York law may not recognize anything after your signature other than the self-proving affidavit. New York law gives you 30 days to have your witnesses observe you signing or acknowledging your will, but you can have your witnesses sign at the same time as you do. Your witnesses must also write their addresses on the will.(N.Y. Estates, Powers & Trusts Law § 3-2.1)”
  • LegalZoom states, “New York also recognizes an oral will (“nuncupative will”) and a handwritten will (“holographic will”) but only if made by a member of the armed forces while in service during war or armed conflict, by a person who serves with or accompanies an armed force during war or armed conflict, or by a mariner at sea. Such a will must be clearly established by two witnesses and becomes invalid a year after discharge if made by an armed forces member and three years after it was made by a mariner.”
  • According to data from NY Bar Association, “during the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Cuomo, under Executive Order, temporarily amended the New York State law to allow remote witnessing and notarization of wills by video conferencing and interaction between all parties through April 18, 2020.** (**UPDATE: April 18 was the original end date which is now extended to August 20, 2020 by Executive Order.)”
  • Further, this means that “currently, you can sign your will ‘in the presence’ of your witnesses via a synchronous audio-visual program, such as Zoom. You must then fax or e-mail a signed legible copy to be signed by the witnesses on the same date the page was signed by you. The witnesses must then sign the transmitted copy of the signature page and transmit it back to you. If you do not have access to a fax or e-mail, you can send the original to your witnesses and they can witness it, using the same date that you signed, as long as it is within 30 days.”
  • In New York, “the Electronic Signatures and Records Act (ESRA) provides that ‘signatures’ made via electronic means will be legally binding just as hand-written signatures now are. The law also enhances and clarifies the authority of government to create and retain records in computer produced electronic form.”
  • A will in New York does not need to be notarized to be valid.

Requirements for Estate Planning Business Entities

No data was uncovered within the public domain, via searches in law databases and state statutes, which govern the creation of an estate planning business entity. The ten companies discussed earlier in the research operate as independent providers of template documents for estate planning purposes. As no organizational structures were located for any of these companies, the only analysis which can be intimated from this evaluation is that most of them have either legal counsel serving within their c-suite or in an advisory capacity. As outlined above, the sites often have disclaimers which state they are not providing legal advice, and an attorney should be consulted for complex issues. Some sites offer either a type of referral service or the option to purchase or subscribe to include one-on-one advice from a lawyer.

Further, another assumption to be made based on the evaluation of companies within the micro-industry is that data security is crucial. If the desire is to house electronic data for clients estate planning, great care should be taken to not only safeguard the data but to plan for any disruptions to the business model which could impact client data.

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Research Strategy

Though explained in each of the applicable sections of the research, for this project on electronic wills and trusts, we leveraged the most reputable sources of information that were available within the public domain, including data from trusted legal sources like Nolo and LegalZoom as well as data collected from state-specific statutes and the Uniform Law Commission.

Sources
Sources