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Hard-copy wills that exist and persist in a paperless society

A slight majority of Americans have not drafted their wills, according to a 2016 Gallup poll that put the number at 56 percent. While it shows an uptick from a Harris Poll in 2015 at 64 percent, over half do not have the formal document. Even more alarming, financial professionals claim that a number of those wills are old and likely outdated.

So, why aren’t more Americans writing or updating their wills? Common answers or excuses range from facing the reality of death to the process being highly emotional. Yet, taking away all those factors still does not remove the challenges of a legal and technically complex process in drafting and revising these specific estate planning documents.

Those without a will can rest assured that we are an increasingly paperless society that is far away from quills dipped in ink with words memorialized on papyrus. If only estate planning laws would keep up.

While seemingly late to the “paperless party,” electronic wills are becoming the latest development in estate planning. Electronic tools already exist to draft estate planning documents. However, wills in most states must still be physically printed and signed, regardless of how they are composed.

Nevada authorized electronic wills in 2001. The documents must undergo a unique authentication process, including retinal scans, voice recognition or digital signatures. From there, they are stored in hard drives or clouds, eliminating the need for any physical documents.

Yet, “e-wills” remain surprisingly rare. Courts in Ohio ruled that they are valid, even without specific legal authority. Legislators in Florida and other states are looking to enact their own laws.

As with any cutting-edge technology, pitfalls exist. Electronic wills could be easier to alter or outright forge. Should a court be presented with multiple wills, they may find it challenging to determine the one most recently executed. However, systems are in place to protect against forgery of all types of formal contractual documents. These same safeguards can be fine-tuned, if not improved for e-wills.

Drafting a will is not an easy process. In fact, many put it off, sometimes until it is too late. However, using the technology of our time with the help of an attorney can make it less time consuming and more likely to give families peace of mind.

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