For many of us the “paperless office” is a reality. Our personal and professional lives reside online through our laptops, smart phones, and cloud storage. But what does this mean for our estate planning?
Recently, an article on CNBC.com discussed the growing popularity of “digital document archives,” which offer specialized cloud storage for estate planning materials including wills, powers of attorney, and health care directives. The idea behind such services is to make it easier for family members or other fiduciaries to locate important estate planning documents. For example, if a person dies, his or her executor could go to a digital archive and promptly download a copy of the will.
Are “Digital Wills” Admissible in California?
Of course, a digital copy of a will would not be sufficient for purposes of California law. Although a handful of states have admitted purely digital documents purporting to be a person’s last will and testament, the overwhelming majority of states, including California, still require an original, signed document on paper. A California probate court will generally not accept even a photocopy of the original will.
That said, there is certainly no harm in keeping a digital copy of your original will for reference. You may even choose to make digital copies of your will—or other estate planning documents, such as a power of attorney—available to family members, so they are aware of the fact you have such a document. This can help discourage will contests after your death.
Protecting Your Estate Planning Documents
You should always keep your original, signed will in a safe location that can be accessed by your chosen executor. Some people may ask their estate planning attorney to hold the document for safekeeping or you could just keep the will in a home safe or similar secured area.
Similarly, if you choose to keep digital copies of your estate planning documents for reference, make sure you take adequate protections to prevent unauthorized access. Paid digital archive services usually offer encrypted cloud storage. But as the CNBC article cautioned, many of these services are recent startups which may not be in business a few years from now. You may be better off keeping digital copies on a more established cloud services like Dropbox or Google Drive, where you likely already have an account.
Personal Attention from an Estate Planning Attorney
Digital archive services and other online estate planning tools are no substitute for receiving personalized legal advice. An experienced California estate planning attorney can assist you in preparing a will, trust, and many other types of documents. Remember, estate planning and probate rules vary from state to state, so a national company is not in the best position to help you with understanding California law. If you would like to speak with an attorney today, contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady in San Diego.