You know when you go into the local office supply store, and there’s that section on DIY legal documents? There’s always a program or two for Wills and estate planning, and a lot of folks we know have been, well, duped into thinking that creating their own Wills is an easy process. But there is something appealing to people about having the documents on-hand, and always being able to access their information when they want it.
So, in this teach-savvy world, we guess it makes sense that putting that document online would seem like the next logical step. Although they’re not currently provided for specifically under Tennessee statutes, electronic Wills are gaining ground and popularity among the tech hungry. But as with any personal information stored online, the risks associated with digitization of Wills are significant, and the benefits do not yet outweigh these risks. In the end, you really shouldn’t keep that type of highly-sensitive information online.
The fantasy of digital wills
The “dream of digitization” is an appealing one: secure, private information that will never degrade, will always be available, and won’t be hurt by well-intentioned yet inexperienced family members. When compared to the Hollywood version of a paper Will (comically misplaced so no one will ever know that the boot shine boy is really the CEO’s secret son!) it isn’t hard to see the attraction.
But that’s not really how these things go. Most Wills that have been properly prepared with the help of an estate planning lawyer are kept either in a safety deposit box, on file with the county clerk, or in the possession of your attorney. While some people do choose to keep a Will in the home, they usually utilize a lockbox and inform their chosen executor of its location.
The stark reality of an online Will
If you’ve been to a yard sale in the past decade, you’ve seen piles of VHS tapes, cassette tapes, records, and maybe even 8 tracks or Betamax discs, all going for a pittance. Most families even still have a box somewhere of VHS recordings of important family events, slowly disintegrating beyond use. With any new technology, the various competing options for storing data take time to coalesce into one standard form, often years or decades. In the interim, any data stored in a format that becomes obsolete becomes inaccessible. The danger of potentially losing access to the only copy of a Will is far graver than losing that mix tape you made in 8th grade. Until a universal standard is available to prevent such catastrophes, digital Wills remain a poor choice.
The dangers go beyond potential loss of access. There are very few impenetrable digital storage media. We hear about new hacks every day. Ransomware is the new buzzword in digital privacy. Storing Wills online puts them at risk of theft and corruption from a variety of sources. No one wants to risk having his or her Will hijacked by a malevolent hacker or destroyed by a software virus. While most folks’ Wills don’t contain too many “secrets,” the repercussions from a leaked Will could range from minor grievances to more serious familial splits or altercations.
Estate planning doesn’t need to be this complicated. With the aid of an experienced Maryville estate planning attorney from Shepherd & Long, PC, you can make confident decisions about your affairs and family. If you have questions about trusts, living Wills, powers of attorney, or taxation implications of a planned inheritance– let us help. You can reach us at 865-982-8060, or by filling out this contact form.