Smartphones have sparked a technological revolution. With a few taps of a screen, smartphone users can do everything from checking the weather to buying stock and video-chatting with people thousands of miles away.
However, even as technology evolves, smartphones still have critical limitations, and they cannot typically be used to execute wills or establish trusts.
Electronic Wills in California
Every state has its own laws regulating the establishment of wills and trusts. In California, the probate code details the requirements for different estate planning documents. While many elements of the probate code were enacted decades ago, it is still in a constant state of change. The California State Assembly has recently begun accommodating new technological innovations, going so far as to recognize the validity of the so-called “digital estate.”
However, even though the Golden State’s probate courts now acknowledge that digital assets can have intrinsic value, few courts permit the formation of a wholly digital estate plan.
California’s Rules for Wills Exclude iPhone-Generated Documents
The California Probate Code provides clear-cut instructions for the writing of a valid will. Under most circumstances, a will must be either of the following:
- A typewritten will. A typewritten will can be generated on a computer or an iPhone, either independently or with the assistance of an attorney. However, typewritten wills must still be printed, and they are valid only if they are signed in ink before two impartial eyewitnesses.
- A holographic will. A holographic will does not necessarily need to be signed, but it must be written independently and entirely in the testator’s own handwriting.
The Golden State’s requirement that wills either be signed or handwritten necessarily precludes the creation of iPhone wills, since a California probate court would likely struggle to ascertain the validity of a wholly digital will.
The Role of Smartphones in California Estate Planning
A smartphone cannot be used to write and sign a legally enforceable will, but these devices still have utility in the estate planning process.
Ways to Use Your Smartphone for Estate Planning
- Track your account balances and review beneficiary designations
- Organize your assets and create a comprehensive estate inventory
- Record your questions in preparation for your initial consultation with a California estate planning attorney