Who says the law can’t keep up with technology?
An Australian court recently made a ruling that the draft of a text message–not yet sent–signed “My Will” was enough to ensure that a deceased man’s property went to his brother and nephew instead of to his ex-wife.
The message wasn’t notarized or registered with any court, lacked basic grammar, and contained informal references to things like “… a bit of cash behind TV,” but the court accepted it nonetheless.
I’m not sure we’d want this followed as a precedent–how do we know the deceased even typed it, or whether he didn’t mean to revise it later and then send it?–but it’s encouraging to think a court would recognize texting as a legal form of communication. What else might have been acceptable? A tweet? A post on Facebook? A video on YouTube?
The courts are going to have to start pondering these questions as new ways of communicating evolve into new ways of doing all kinds of transactions. For example, in the UAE you can legally create your will online and register it using video conferencing even if you’re not in the country at the time. It’s a handy idea, when you think about it.
A Legally Binding Video Call
The UAE launched its new virtual registry in September to allow foreign nationals to secure the future of their investments and assets held in the federation. It’s a forward-thinking move for a nation with a population of 9.2 million people, 7.8 million of whom are expats from around the world.
Under the initiative, a person can create, witness, and store a legal will from anywhere in the world. The document can then be formally registered over a video conference connection, meaning this no longer has to be done in-person at a probate registry.
There are plenty of situations when you might want to access a service like that, but the one the springs to mind for me is sudden illness. If you’re not one of life’s great planners and you suddenly fall ill in a manner that prevents you from traveling, this new video link would let you safely preserve assets you’d otherwise lose.
More than that, doing things face-to-face online means you can get expert help to make sure you’ve done everything by the book–without having to consult a lawyer in person. That’s a service that could prove popular with everyday people who don’t have vast foreign holdings to protect.
Why Create Your Will Online
Deciding how your worldly possessions should be dispensed after you’re no longer here to enjoy them is a deeply personal task. That’s part of the reason many people decide to take a DIY approach to the matter. There are, however, dangers in creating your own will. As CNBC put it recently, your will can have no more legal standing than a grocery list if you get the process wrong. Make a mistake with your will, and you could be setting up your loved ones for a costly legal battle.
There are a number of online legal will kits and software packages available that can help you through the basics of creating a legally binding will, but there’s nothing like a human touch to ensure–and reassure–that you’ve got it right.
The Process of Making a Will Online
Almost all of us have material things of value we want to pass on to others, even if it’s something as lowly as the “second-best bed” William Shakespeare left to his wife. I’m guessing there are a similar number of us who have access to the internet, and who could afford a $30 webcam to make full use of that internet connection.
If you have those prerequisites–possessions to pass on, access to internet, and the ability to make video calls–then you should have what you need to make a legal will by video conference. However, every state in the U.S. has its own probate laws for dealing with legal wills, so you’ll have to do some homework to find out the formal requirements. In some cases you may not be able to lodge a will online, but you can still seek advice that way.
More and more businesses are providing online customer service via video chat so customers can get in touch with a single click, but if the legal crowd hasn’t gone that far yet you can still meet using a common service like Skype.
Once you’re dialed in, the meeting can proceed just as it would in-person. You can exchange files and share each others’ screens to make it easier to fill out forms; other people join the call if you need a witness or clarification on who’s still married to who; you can share multimedia files to make it clear exactly what property and goods you’re describing.
And all of this can be done from the comfort of your own home, or–if you’re the unorganized type like me– most likely from a laptop on your hospital bed.
If the law can catch up to the powers of modern technology, and video conferencing is already being used in courts of law to provide witness testimony, then one day the entire last will and testament process could be completed in a single video call from anywhere in the world.