In the course of your business, you ensure all of your clients have a last will and testament, done under the guidance of an estate planning attorney, and includes trusts, buy-sell agreements, or whatever is appropriate for that client. In the past, one requirement of a valid will was to have it signed in ink in front of witnesses.
Will that change? There is a growing movement to legalize e-signatures for wills and trusts. The Uniform Law Commission, a nonprofit that proposes model laws for states to consider, drafted the Uniform Electronic Wills Act to recognize the validity of wills that have been electronically signed and stored in electronic form. Nebraska and Indiana already allow it, with Florida and Arizona expected to adopt the law this year. The push is gaining steam under the COVID-19 crisis, as people try to complete necessary estate documents as quickly and inexpensively as possible.
Companies like the start-up Trust & Will promote and enable completing the process without employing or paying for an attorney. After they assist clients in downloading and completing their documents, the company records a video chat between the client and a notary before both parties proceed to sign electronically. Store the documents in the cloud along with the video, tp prove identity and ensure accessibility to the survivors.
Electronic signatures are not intrinsically problematic. You likely are already familiar with signing contracts electronically, making electronic bank deposits, etc. However, we have always recommended that one complete a will under the guidance of an attorney. When people download forms from the internet, they usually don’t understand what they really need nor the terms of the document they sign. Assets may be titled improperly, beneficiaries may not be correct, and trusts may not be adequate. Also, although recording a video chat is a good step, there may be someone standing outside of the video frame who is providing undue influence. All of these problems are prevented with proper legal counsel and sound financial advice.
Educate yourself on the ever-changing world of online documents that clients may be tempted to employ, especially if your state passes the Uniform Electronic Wills Act. Then if the topic comes up, you can guide them wisely and confidently to doing what is truly in their best interest.