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Are Electronic Wills Valid? Ohio Judge Says Yes

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on July 05, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Are electronic wills valid? After all, even technophiles face the two certainties in life: birth and death.

According to a judge in Ohio, yes, electronic wills are valid. But that's not necessarily the case in all jurisdictions nationwide.

A probate court in Ohio recently tackled this novel issue of law and ruled that a will, drafted on a Samsung Galaxy tablet, was valid under state law.

Javier Castro was told by doctors that he needed a blood transfusion to survive his illness. But he refused the procedure on religious grounds.

At the cusp of death, Castro told two of his brothers that he wished to draft a will. With no pen or paper nearby, the brothers drafted the will on a Galaxy Tablet. Later that day, Castro signed the will, using the tablet's stylus, with his brothers serving as witnesses, reports The Chronicle-Telegram.

Judge James Walther, while recognizing that the issue had not previously been decided, looked to the plain text of Ohio's statute, which merely requires that the will "shall be in writing, but may be handwritten or typewritten," be signed by the testator or his representative, and be witnessed.

The will met all statutory requirements, even if it was written using a new medium, according to the judge.

New Laws Needed, Judge Says

As the court noted, a written will is valid, whether it is drafted on an Android tablet or carved into a stone.

Though the court held that the electronic will fit squarely within the law, Judge Walther noted that the Ohio legislature should update the state's laws to specifically address electronic wills, according to the Telegram-Chronicle. Some other states like Nevada have already done so.

While electronic wills may be easier to draft and keep track of, there are potential drawbacks to them. For example, they may present authentication problems. The files could potentially be manipulated and "digital signatures" can be forged.

At the end of the day (or life...), a PDF file is more tricky to authenticate than a notarized paper copy.

Then again, states have mechanisms in place to prevent acts of fraud.

Most states, including Ohio, have disinterested witness requirements. That means multiple witnesses who won't benefit from the will must be present when the will is being signed. That requirement itself could potentially guard against most claims of fraud when an electronic will is being signed.

A major plus point of electronic wills is convenience.

By digitizing the process, you can sign, email copies to family members and the executor, keep a copy in your files, and save a back-up copy in the cloud, all in a matter of seconds. Rather than dig through boxes of dusty files, you can enter eternal rest with peace of mind, knowing that the will isn't lost or misplaced.

While you're at it, don't forget to plan for your digital afterlife, too.

To figure out whether an electronic will is the right choice for you, and whether it will hold up in your state, you may want to consult an experienced wills lawyer near you.

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