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Friday, September 25, 2015

Can you have a Digital Will in New York?

In a recent Australian case, Re Yu [2013] QSC 322, a digital Will was admitted to probate. Mr. Karter Yu, prior to committing suicide, drafted several documents on his I-phone, saying farewell to his family and friends. One of these documents was his stated Will, appointing his brother as an Executor. The court, after pain-staking analysis, admitted this electronic document to Probate. The court did this despite the fact that the legal requirements of the execution were not met.

In New York, which is very strict about observing all legal formalities, this bending of the rules would not have been permitted and Mr. Yu would have been considered to have died “intestate” – without a Will. There are several requirements for a Will to be valid in New York:

  1. A Will must be in writing

  2. A Will must be signed at the end by the Testator

  3. The Testator must sign the Will in the presence of at least two Witnesses

  4. The Testator must declare to the Witnesses that the document that he is about to sign is his Willwhile

  5. The two witnesses must attest to the Testator’s signature and must sign the document themselves.

The only exceptions that are permitted to the punctilious execution of these formalities are for members of the armed forces of the United States while in the actual military or naval service during a war or other armed conflict, a person who serves with or accompanies an armed force engaged in actual military or naval service during a war, or a mariner while at sea. Upon an expiration of one year from a discharge from armed forces, or upon an expiration of three years from the time the mariner returned from the sea, such a Will becomes invalid.

As a result, if one wants to have a proper Will in New York State, ALL legal requirements as stated above must be observed.

Disclaimer: This article only offers general information.  Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions.  As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney-client relationship.


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