In the case In re Estate of Karter Wu (Supreme Court of Queensland, Australia), Mr. Wu created and stored his Last Will and Testament on an iPhone, along with a series of other documents, most of them final farewells.
Wu’s iPhone Will named an executor and successor, set forth how he wished to dispose of his assets at death, dealt with his entire estate, and authorized the executor to deal with his financial affairs. The Will began with the words “This is the Last Will and Testament of Karter Wu.” At the end of the document, Wu typed his name where the testator would normally sign his name, followed by the date and his address. The Australian court admitted the Will to probate.
The law for the execution of a valid Will in Queensland, Australia, is set forth in the Succession Act of 1981. The Act provides the requirements for execution, however, it provides that, if the court is satisfied that a person intended a document to form his Will, then the document shall be considered a Will as long as it purports to state his testamentary intentions. Australian law defines a “document” to include any disc, tape, article, or any materials from which writings are able to be produced or reproduced. Citing a New South Wales, Australia, case that held a Word document stored on a laptop computer to be a document, the court held the electronic record on the iPhone was a document for purposes of the statute. Since the record contained on the iPhone named an executor, authorized the executor to deal with his financial affairs, and provided for the distribution of Wu’s entire estate at a time he was contemplating his imminent death, the court held that it met the requirements of the Succession Act 1981.
California Probate Code § 6110 provides that a Will shall be in writing and signed by the testator, or signed in the testator’s name by some other person in the testator’s presence and at the testator’s direction, or by a conservator pursuant to court order. The Will must have the signatures of two witnesses. If the Will does not meet these requirements, it shall be treated as if it did meet the requirements if the proponent of the Will establishes by clear and convincing evidence that, at the time the testator executed the Will, he or she intended the document to be his or her Will.
Similarly, New Jersey law provides at N.J.S. 3B:3-2 that a document or writing is treated as complying with the normal rules for executing a Will if the proponent of the writing establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the decedent intended the document to constitute the decedent’s Will.
The California and New Jersey statutes are based on § 2-503 of the Uniform Probate Code. The impetus for the enactment of this section of the Uniform Probate Code may have been a case where an attorney attempted to probate the unsigned draft of a Will of a decedent who was killed in the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001.
California Probate Code § 6130 further provides: “a writing in existence when a Will is executed may be incorporated by reference if the language of the Will manifests this intent and describes the writing sufficiently to permit its identification. California Probate Code § 6131 states: “a Will may dispose of property by reference to acts and events that have significance apart from their effect upon the dispositions made by the Will, whether the acts or events occur before or after the execution of the Will or before or after the testator’s death. . . .”
Recently, a Will was admitted to probate in California where the Will referred to the disposition of assets in accordance with recordings that the decedent had left, both prior to the execution of the Will and would leave after the execution of the Will, on his answering machine at his residence. The judge found that the recordings constituted a writing within the meaning of the California Probate Code and were to be incorporated by reference and were to be considered to be acts of independent significance. Therefore, the recordings were given effect with regard to the disposition of property as governed by the Will.
While the existence of these statutes in many states have broadened what may be admitted as a Will for probate, it is not a good idea to rely on these statutes to assure that one’s Will will be accepted by the local probate court. Having a Will drafted by an attorney experienced in estate planning and drafting is always the best course of action to assure there will be no problems with the disposition of one’s estate at death.
Furthermore, there are many reasons why one may not wish to subject his or her estate to probate upon death, including potential additional costs, delays in administration, and the publicity of both the extent of the decedent’s wealth and the identification of the beneficiaries of the estate. There are many ways to avoid a probate administration at death, including the execution and funding of a revocable or irrevocable trust during the individual’s lifetime.
For more information about the ways to avoid probate, contact our law office. Our office focuses on estate planning, probate administration, and methods to avoid probate for those who have a desire to do so. We work with clients of all wealth levels and ages. As a member and designated Fellow of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, our firm is kept up-to-date with information regarding estate planning and estate and trust administration strategies. You can get more information about scheduling a complimentary estate planning appointment and our planning and administration services by calling our office at (408) 356-9200 or (831) 476-2400.