Traditionally, someone’s last will is a handwritten document or at least a physical paper that they sign or make a mark on in the presence of witnesses. Adhering to state law during the creation of a will is crucial for those who want to have control over their legacy when they die.
New York’s probate laws are constantly changing. The way people structure their estate plans has changed over the years, and lawmakers have to revise existing statutes to ensure they still properly address modern needs.
As much of life has become increasingly digital, people have started to look to the electronic realm for estate planning solutions as well. Digital or electronic wills, which some people call e-wills, allow someone to create estate planning documents using software and sign the paperwork electronically. Is an e-will a viable solution for someone planning their estate in New York?
The state does not recognize e-wills yet
Although New York often leads the way with cultural trends, state lawmakers have chosen to be patient and analytical about digital estate documents thus far. Although other states, including Florida, have already updated their laws to allow people to use electronic wills to arrange for the descent of their property, New York has not yet made any such changes.
There have been discussions at the regulatory level about making changes to existing probate law, but as of late 2022, the state does not have specific legal statutes creating a framework for e-wills. A digital will could provide certain kinds of guidance when someone dies by helping inform family members or executors about their preferences, but it won’t hold up in New York probate court.
Judges would likely treat an estate with only an electronic will like estates where someone has no will whatsoever. They could apply intestate succession laws, which favor spouses, children and other close family members. If there is an older, physical will, that document may end up determining what happens with a testator’s assets.
Obviously, you do not want to invest in the creation of estate planning documents only to have the courts ignore them in the future. Tracking changes to New York’s probate laws can help those planning or updating their estates.