On March 19, 2020, Governor Newsom issued an order for all California residents to stay home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Since that time, Californians have had to adapt to managing almost every aspect of their lives remotely. Fortunately, with the convenience of the internet, curbside-delivery, and the efficiency of cloud-based computing, staying in to work and live has been relatively manageable for many people. In the current situation, creating your California estate planning documents electronically may seem logical. However, although some California documents can be legally invoked by electronic signature, California wills cannot. However, there are states where electronic wills are considered valid. So, are electronic wills coming to California in the near future?
In California, the current law requires that a will be written and signed by the testator. A conservator can also sign a will according to a court order. A formal will must be signed in front of two witnesses during the testator’s lifetime. These two people have to be present at the same time when the testator signs, “or the testator’s acknowledgment of the signature of the will.” They must also sign the document with the understanding that it is the testator’s will.
In California, the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (Civ. Code Sections 1633.1–1633.17) allows for electronic signatures to be used to complete various transactions. However, the Act specifically states that it does not apply to wills. While it would be easier and more convenient to sign a California will electronically, as for right now, to be valid, a California will must be physically signed.
In February 2019, Assembly Bill 1667 (AB 1677) was introduced, proposing that electronic wills be allowed in California. AB 1667 or the “Electronic Wills Act” would amend the probate code to include electronic wills. The definition of an electronic will would be one that provides for electronic signatures and complies with the other probate code requirements. The bill proposes that witnesses to the will, be able to sign the will electronically within a reasonable time after the testator. The bill also proposes that the witnesses be able to sign in the physical or electronic presence of the testator. The inclusion of this provision would allow a witness to be in another physical place, but appear via Zoom, Skype, or another electronic means, and legally attest to having observed the testator sign their will.
AB 1667 has yet to be made law, but seems to have been well-received thus far. In a time with more and more services going digital, California wills may be next. With recent events and the need for social distancing and available technology, there are strong arguments to support the swift passage and enactment of this legislation.
At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo we are estate planning attorneys with the experience you need to plan for the future. Please contact us online or by phone to set up a free consultation today and start your solution.