We have all seen movies, television shows, and cartoons that depict anxiety ridden prospective beneficiaries gathered in a lawyer’s office for “The Reading of the Will,” to be read by the now-deceased person on video.

That fictionalized gathering may soon be a reality if the SB 1298 is passed.  SB 1298 is proposed legislation which would re-write portions of Arizona Revised Statutes.  The proposed legislation is an effort to broaden what Arizona deems “valid” with regards to estate planning documents.  (This legislation will not affect the validity of estate plans signed before the legislation is confirmed.)

If passed, not only would a video recording of a Will or Trust being signed be allowed in Court as evidence to show: the proper signing of a Will, the signor’s intent, the mental state or capacity of the signor and the authenticity of the Will, but it would also allow for people to write, sign and retain their estate plans all in an electronic format.

Under the proposed Bill, to be a valid electronic Will or Trust the document must have an electronic signature, contain the date and time of the signature and be created and maintained in a manner that will make any alteration to the document easily detectable.  Furthermore, the document must also include a copy of the person’s government issued identification and the signer must provide biometric identification, like a fingerprint, a retinal scan, or a video recording of the signing.

This year there appears to be a nationwide push by companies that provide online legal forms and information to propose legislation in states, including Arizona, to make electronically signed and stored estate planning documents legally valid. As it stands, Nevada is the only state to codify electronically signed estate planning documents.  Proponents cite that advances in technology may allow for better storage and ease of signing. The obvious concern is, of course, the opportunities for exploitation. After all, what could possibly go wrong with access to or forgery of digital information? While it remains uncertain if this proposed legislation will pass, we do know one thing, if it does, estate planning attorneys will have a whole new forum to interact with clients!

-Rachel Zaslow, Esq.