An online will is a type of will document that has been created through the use of online legal document services. These are a somewhat new phenomenon in the legal field, and have been introduced mainly through the use of online legal form websites.
Online wills may allow a person to create, modify, and save a will document through various form templates that the person fills out. This can have some advantages, though there are also other issues to consider as well.
Are Online Wills Considered Legally Valid?
A will that is created through online mechanisms can be legally valid. However, it still needs to satisfy the various will requirements in order to be considered valid. The requirements for drafting a will can vary by state; however, they generally include:
- Having the mental and legal capacity (i.e., being 18 years old in most states) to form a will;
- Appointing an executor (the person who will manage the estate after the person dies);
- Including a statement indicating that the document is indeed a will;
- Signing and dating the will document;
- Having the will formally witnessed by 2 or 3 people (these people must be “uninterested parties”; that is, they don’t stand to gain or receive something through the will); and
- Having various provisions related to specific property items, minors, and other legal issues.
Thus, you should note that an online will is not valid unless it fully meets all of these requirements. Simply filling out the form online will not give the will the full legal effect and validity. For example, at that point, the will still needs to be formally signed and properly witnessed, which involves at least 2-3 other people.
What are Some Issues With Online Wills?
One main issue with the creation of online wills is that of “competency”. Under state laws, a person needs to have both the legal capacity (i.e. over 18 years old in most states) and the mental capacity to create a will.
This means that they should be able to make important legal decisions on their own, and be able to generally understand the effects of those decisions. If this is not the case, then the will might not be considered valid.
In other words, even though will forms are accessible to most people online, that doesn’t mean that just any person can fill them out. The person (the testator) needs to be both old enough and capable of understanding how the document will affect their estate and assets.
Another unique issue with online wills not usually found in normal will documents is that of privacy and security. Since the digital documents are accessed, filled out, and (sometimes) stored online, they can be subject to internet theft, tampering, and fraud. You may wish to withhold sensitive information unless you’re sure that it won’t be subject to these types of issues violations. Finally, online wills generally still require the assistance of a wills, trusts, and estates attorney, especially if a person has a large estate or particularly valuable items of property that they wish to distribute.
What are Some Common Online Will Disputes?
Since an online will document can be valid just like a traditional will document, it can also be associated with conventional will disputes and legal issues. Disputes and legal contests that can arise in connection with an online will may include:
- Disputes over which beneficiaries receive which items of property (this is often a common dispute amongst family members or relatives of the deceased person).
- Conflicts regarding the selection of the executor or the removal of an executor in favor of a different person.
- Legal conflicts over a specific item of property (for instance, when two or more family members are disputing ownership over a highly valuable family heirloom or piece of jewelry).
- General issues with the people named in the will.
- Will contests — that is, disputes regarding the overall validity of the online will document. For instance, a relative might try to claim that the will is invalid because the testator lacked the proper capacity to form the will.
- Issues with duress or coercion (for instance, if the testator was forced to create the will in a certain way under threat of harm or injury).
- Various other legal issues or conflicts.
Will conflicts can be serious and can often be complex, especially if the testator has already passed away. In such situations, it can be difficult to determine what the testator’s original intentions were with regard to their property.
Thus, it is important to make sure that a will document (especially online will documents) be drafted in a way that is clear and provides exact details regarding the testator’s intentions.
Should I Hire a Lawyer if I Need Help With an Online Will?
You may wish to contact a lawyer if you need help with an online will. An estates lawyer in your area can provide you with expert advice regarding the laws in your state. Also, your can help represent your interests in court if a will dispute or conflict arises, or if someone is challenging the validity of your will documents.