What Do You Mean Electronic Will?
In a world of rapid change, the process of estate planning seems to have been relatively stagnant; at least until recently. The process has always been something like a client meeting with an attorney to discuss his or her wishes in the event of disability or death. The attorney then discusses documents like a will, trust and power of attorney and together the attorney and client determine the best plan for the client. Then, the attorney drafts the plan and the client returns to sign all the documents. Whether written by hand, on a typewriter, or with a word processor, the process has remained largely unchanged.
Technology has changed so much around us, including in the legal world. Potential clients now Google basic legal questions before coming to see an attorney, so they are more versed in legal documents before an attorney suggests them. Deeds can be electronically recorded and so an inked signature is never sent to the register of deeds. Legal Zoom and other electronic services have changed many transactional law practices, including estate planning. Some now bypass the attorney and use online services with which to draft their estate planning documents or business plans. Whether created using Legal Zoom or drafted by an attorney, all wills require the testator to sign it with an ink pen. So, despite the existence of such online services and the rapid evolution of technology, the manner in which wills are executed remained unchanged; at least until recently.
Last week Florida passed an electronic wills law. The Florida law allows individuals to electronically sign their own will, by-passing the need for a second trip to the attorney’s office or an ink pen. In order for the will to be considered valid, it must be electronically signed by the testator and signed in the presence of two witnesses, much in the manner in which wills are traditionally executed, but the witnesses do not have to be in the same room as the testator. Instead the witnessing of the will can be done virtually (by web camera), so long as the execution is videotaped. There are a number of other requirements that must be met in order for a will to be a valid electronic will; however, the revolution does not exist so much in the details, but rather in the fact that electronic signatures and thus purely electronic wills exist.
Currently, neither Virginia nor North Carolina are considering similar laws; however, Florida’s electronic wills statute will impact both states. Will Virginia and North Carolina accept Wills which were validly executed under Florida’s electronic wills statute as a means to pass title to a Florida resident’s real estate located here, even though the will wouldn’t be considered valid here? Should Virginia and North Carolina consider similar electronic wills statutes to make travelling to and from our states easier?
Many believe that allowing the electronic creation of wills will allow the more than half of Americans who don’t have wills, to create them at a reasonable cost. Others are concerned that allowing the electronic execution of wills will result in an increase in fraud, undue influence, and elder abuse. The actual impact of allowing electronic signatures and electronic wills remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain, technology continues to change the practice of law.
Ask Kit Kat – Prairie Dog ‘Talk’
Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about how prairie dogs communicate?
Kit Kat: Well, if you’ve ever heard a prairie dog whistle, you’ve heard prairie dogs “talking.” What may sound to you like a cheerful whistle is actually how they communicate. The premier expert in the field is Con Slobodchikoff, emeritus professor of biology at Northern Arizona University. He’s been studying prairie dogs’ communication for more than 30 years!
According to Dr. Slobodchikoff, prairie dogs have such complex communication abilities, that he has labeled it as language. Not all his colleagues in the scientific community agree, but he still clings to his assertion. Dr. Slobodchikoff says that the prairie dog can not only telegraph what type of outsider there is, but also the outsider’s size, shape, color, and speed. He also says they can describe something they have never seen before. One way they do this is through the use of intonation. Much like in the Mandarin language in which one word (ma) can mean horse, mother, or to scold, the prairie dog combines 6-7 overtones (compared with a human’s 3-4 overtones) to compose different strings of words—“dog big yellow fast” or “human small blue slow.” Dr. Slobodchikoff is dedicated to this field and will continue his research into these fascinating creatures.
Sadly, his subjects are in decline right now. They are not a protected species, because some see them as pests who consume the grass that cattle depend on. Dr. Slobodchikoff says they are not really a threat, because it would take hundreds of prairie dogs to eat as much grass as one cow does. Before 1800, it is estimated that as many as 5 billion prairie dogs occupied the Great Plains. They live in colonies in underground burrows and rarely venture more than a few hundred feet from the home colony. As soon as a threat is detected, the one who realizes danger sounds the alert, and all run for cover. Now, it is estimated that only 10-20 million exist. Another problem for them is disease. Since 1900, they have been prone to contract plague, brought to North America by flea-bitten rats from Asia. Nevertheless, Dr. Slobodchikoff will continue his studies, even though it now requires him to travel further from Flagstaff where Northern Arizona University is located to find his subjects. (Ferris Jabr, “Can Prairie Dogs Talk?” The New York Times Magazine, May 12, 2017)
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