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Digital Wills

Times may change, but “standards” must remain. Even as much of our lives become digitized, some things remain in traditional form.

In almost every state, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, Wills cannot be fully digitized. The writing (provisions) of your Will can be typed, but signatures by you and your witnesses must be done by hand on an original, physical document.

The primary reason your original Will must be signed by hand is for your protection. It is much harder to fake or replicate your written signature than it is to merely type your name in a cursive electronic font as a “signature.” It is also more difficult to change provisions of a hard copy, hand-signed Will after you sign. For example, if you sign a hard copy Will, nobody can alter its content against your wishes, since doing so would deface it with pen scribbles, hand-written additions, or whiteout. This type of alteration, known as “interlineation,” is obvious and also invalid, without overwhelming proof and two witnesses that you made the alterations. But with a digital Will, someone might gain unauthorized access to your computer and change the terms of your Will by mere typing.

So, if you live in Pennsylvania or nearby states, your Will must still be crafted as a traditional hard copy, signed by hand. This requirement ensures your wishes for your estate are truly yours.

There is a handful of states, including Florida, that do recognize fully digital Wills, however. In Florida, a fully digital Will is valid as long as it meets the basic requirements for any Will. There is a growing movement to recognize digital Wills, despite the risks. The COVID-19 pandemic may spark new interest in legalizing digital Wills, given the current health benefits of social distancing.

But for now, digital Wills are the exception, not the norm.