In early 2021, Virginia passed a law stating that testators could execute a valid Will electronically, as long as requirements are met. Since the passage of the Uniform Electronic Wills Act, individuals are increasingly exploring options for the electronic execution of their Wills.
If you’re considering signing your Will through digital means, here’s what you should know under Virginia law.
Traditional vs. electronic Wills
Just like a traditional Will, an electronic Will is a legal document expressing a person’s wishes for the distribution of their property and assets upon death. These Wills are the same as traditional ones as far as coverage, and they accommodate society’s growing use of digital technology — particularly those in younger generations.
It has long been the tradition for Wills to be prepared as hard-copy, written documents, signed in person by the Will-maker, (called a “testator”), in the presence of two witnesses. With the passage of the Uniform Electronic Wills Act, a testator can now electronically execute a Will in the presence of two witnesses and/or a notary public present via digital means, such as a video conference, while they sign.
How COVID-19 influenced virtual Will signing
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for virtual Will signing grew significantly as a way to maintain social distance while keeping estate plans on track. As people grew cautious of potential exposures, many opted for a solution in which they could sign a valid Will without risking their health through an in-person meeting.
Even after stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines were lifted, many individuals found the ability to execute Wills by video or electronically to be a more convenient and accessible option than coordinating a time to sign in person at their attorney’s offices. Younger generations in particular tend to prefer electronic/digital/virtual options for completing and signing legal documents, which means more Gen Zers and Millennials than ever have begun making estate planning a priority. In fact, from 2020 to 2021, the percentage of 18-year-olds to 34-year-olds with Wills jumped from 16.4% to 27%. The uptick in campus violence on college campuses has also played a significant factor for parents wanting to preserve their ability to help their recently emancipated children with financial and healthcare decisions should something take place while they are away at college.
Creating electronic Wills in Virginia
Whether it is executed in person or electronically, a Will must meet all of the following requirements to be considered valid in the Commonwealth of Virginia:
- The testator must be age 18 or older.
- The Will must be in writing (not oral). While the Will is usually typed, it can also be entirely in the handwriting of the testator. A Will written entirely in one’s handwriting is called a holographic Will, but must still meet all the other bullet-point requirements.
- The Will must be signed by the testator.
- The Will must be signed in the presence of two witnesses.
- While not a requirement for a hard-copy Will, a notary must also sign if a Will is being handled using Virginia’s new law, and it is generally best to sign with a notary there to independently verify the ages and identities of the testator and the witnesses.
According to Virginia law, a Will that is executed electronically must meet the above requirements, as well as be “acknowledged by the testator and attesting witnesses in the physical or electronic presence of a notary public.” The notary can, if needed, serve as one of the two required witnesses.
If you wish to execute an electronic Will, you will typically need to schedule a video conference with all the appropriate parties. Most attorneys who prepare Wills for clients serve as the notary and provide witnesses for signings, and you should inquire of any attorney you hire if they offer this at no extra charge, as is the case with the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C.
Pros and cons of electronic Wills
Electronic Wills come with both added benefits and disadvantages for those looking to create one. On the plus side, they are much easier to coordinate, as witnesses and/or a notary doesn’t need to be physically present for the Will to be signed. Therefore, it offers the convenience of not having to travel or incur travel costs.
The downside, however, is that the electronic execution of a Will requires access to proper technology and a computer with internet connectivity and video/audio capacity. In addition, it may give rise to more Will contests if certain family members believe there is anything suspect with the electronic signing.
Are you a Virginia resident wondering if an electronic Will could benefit you? If so, the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor can help. Schedule a free consultation to discuss your estate planning questions and needs.