Electronic Wills in Washington Legal Since January 1st, 2022
Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5132 in 2021, which adopts the Uniform Electronic Wills Act (the “Act”). This means that electronic will become legal in Washington beginning on January 1st, 2022.
A “wet” ink signature was formerly required to execute a lawful Washington Will. The testator (the person creating the Will) was required to sign the document in the physical presence of two witnesses. However, a testator (and witnesses) may now sign an electronic Will using an “electronic symbol, sound, or process” beginning January 1st, 2022.
Witnesses are not required to be in the testator’s physical presence as long as they are “in his or her electronic presence,” which may include on a video conferencing platform like Zoom (Act §22). The Will can then be saved as a PDF, Word document, or other electronic formats if it is retrievable and readable in that form.
The Act also permits the production of paper copies of electronically signed Wills; however, such documents must be verified as “true, full, and accurate” representations of the Wills.
What Changes Can We Expect from the New Electronic Wills Act?
The Act allows for creating digital wills that are legally binding in Washington. This is a significant change to Washington trust and estate law and will enable people to establish their wills.
Some requirements must be met for an electronic will to be considered legal. The testator (the person who is making the Will) must sign the will electronically in a way that meets the requirements of the Act. The electronic signature must be attached to or logically associated with the Will.
Two individuals who are not named in the Will must witness the electronic Will as beneficiaries. The witnesses must sign the will electronically to meet the requirements of the Act. The electronic signatures of the witnesses must be attached to or logically associated with the Will.
What Are the Benefits of Creating Electronic Wills?
There are several benefits to creating an electronic will:
- It allows people to develop their wills from the comfort of their own homes.
- It eliminates the need to find two witnesses willing to sign the Will.
- It makes it easier to keep track of the Will and ensure that it is not lost or damaged.
What Are the Risks of Creating Electronic Wills?
There are some risks associated with creating an electronic will:
- If the electronic Will is not completed correctly, it may not be considered legal.
- If the electronic Will is lost or damaged, it may not be easy to recover.
- If the electronic Will is hacked, the contents could be changed without the testator’s knowledge.
It’s essential to weigh the risks and benefits of creating an electronic will before deciding. If you choose to make an electronic will, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that it is created correctly and meets all legal requirements.
Planning for Electronic Will Storage Is Important
The Act establishes that a “qualified custodian” should store an electronic Will to prevent it from being tampered with after it has been executed. The qualified custodian will maintain custody of the electronic Will during the testator’s life.
The qualified custodian must, within 30 days of learning about the testator’s death, deliver the Will to either a personal representative named in the Will or the court with jurisdiction over the Will, along with an affidavit certifying that it was held in custody at all times and has not been tampered with. We highly recommend entrusting the electronic Will to a competent custodian, which is critical for ensuring that your wishes will be carried out correctly.
Contact Our Experts for Additional Assistance
If you find yourself with more questions than answers regarding electronic Wills or other aspects of your estate planning, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our office at 509-328-2150 or use our contact page to send us a quick email. If you’d like to read a bit more about electronic will storage, Nolo has a great resource.