You’ve probably seen this kind of thing in television or movies. When a person dies, they leave behind a video in which they say goodbye to their family and friends, and explain how their property should be divided. Depending on the plot of the movie, they might even explain why, and the reason often stirs up all kinds of drama. But are video things just a theatrical device, or do people really use them?

Most states require wills to be physical documents that are written, signed, and witnessed. However, modern technology is making video wills a more popular and attractive option for some people. In a video will, the person who is making the will (also called the testator), usually reads their will out loud for the camera. The basic concept follows the movie version, although it’s usually not as dramatic.

Are Video Wills Valid?

It sounds like it would be so much easier to just turn on your webcam and record yourself talking about who you want to be guardian of your children and who should get the house. However, the truth is that such a video by itself most likely won’t create a valid will. 

To create a valid will, you must have a physical paper document that is signed and witnessed. Most states require at least two witnesses to the signature. They must be able to testify if necessary that you appeared to be of sound mind and acting of your own free will when you signed the will. Although a video on its own is not enough, video can be a useful tool when it comes to making a valid will. 

For example, if the video includes the testator reading a will out loud, this indicates that a written copy exists. As long as the written copy of the will meets your state’s requirements for a valid will, the video and the written will can be used jointly to protect the will’s validity. If you are concerned that someone may attempt to challenge or contest the will after your death, having a video version of the will can provide additional evidence. For instance, it can help show that you knew what you were doing when you signed your will, that you were of sound judgment, and that you weren’t being manipulated by someone else.

What are Nuncupative Wills?

It is worth noting that as of 2010, a handful of states accepted oral wills (also called nuncupative wills), such as what you may find in a video will, under very specific circumstances. Nuncupative wills are often also referred to as deathbed wills. This refers to situations where the testator speaks his bequests and wishes to witnesses, usually because he has no opportunity to make a written will. In states that accept nuncupative wills, a video will might be legal if it meets all of the other requirements of the state statutes. 

However, these requirements are often very narrow and specific, and usually require that the testator dies within a limited period of time after making their oral will. While it is possible, it would be difficult for a video will to meet all of the statutory requirements, including the time constraints. It is more likely for the video will to serve as a backup or supplement to a written will, as evidence that the testator was reasonable and free from influence.

What is Video Signing?

Another option, besides having a video recording of yourself reading the will out loud, is to have a video recording of the will-signing ceremony, where you sign the will in the presence of witnesses. This can go a long way to heading off claims that you were being unduly influenced. This is especially true if the video makes it clear that you are in your right mind, that you know what your will says, and that you are using the will to express your own wishes (and not someone else’s).

You might also take the opportunity to explain the reasoning and intent behind some of your bequests. However, you are not by any means required to explain yourself in your will, of course. 

Having a video recording of the execution of the will can also show that you executed the will properly according to your state’s rules. Of course, you should consult a local attorney in order to make sure that your will-signing ceremony complies with your state’s rules about creating valid wills.

Should I Talk to a Lawyer About My Video Will?

If you want to produce a video will, you are certainly at liberty to do so. However, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer. They can help make sure that you also draft a written will that meets your state’s requirements in order to have a valid will that will execute your wishes.

An additional benefit is that your estate planning lawyer may also have a video room available for you to create a video will to supplement the written one. This will allow you to leave a personalized message for your loved ones from the great beyond.