Tablet Last Will and Testament Found Valid in Ohio
After researching my last post about an iPhone will, I thought to myself: a ruling like this would never happen in the U.S., right? Not quite.
According to an article in the Chronicle-Telegram in Lorain County, Ohio, a judge upheld the validity of a will written and signed on a Samsung Galaxy tablet. The person who created the will (the “testator”) was in a local hospital, and discussed writing a will with two of his brothers. Because “they did not have any paper or a pencil”, the testator dictated his will to one of his brothers, who wrote it on the tablet using a stylus. Later that day, the testator signed the will on the tablet with his two brothers acting as witnesses. If the will had not been upheld, under Ohio law the deceased’s assets would have been distributed to his parents.
Let’s break down the issues in this case. First of all, there was no pen or paper available in the hospital. Really? I understand that northeast Ohio has suffered more than its fair share of hardships—recession, unemployment, and Cleveland sports to name a few. However, this marks the first time I’ve heard of what I will deem The Great Paper Shortage of 2013. If only there were paper mills near Lorain County.
Second, and more importantly, the brothers should not have acted as witnesses. The article doesn’t name the beneficiaries of the tablet will, but I suspect that the brothers received at least a portion of the estate. Do you see the problem? This is why the law requires two disinterested witnesses to be present when a will is signed, thereby reducing the risk of fraud or undue influence over the testator. A witness without a stake in the outcome is less likely to be dishonest. That safeguard is not effective if the witnesses are also the beneficiaries of the will. One would imagine this problem could have been avoided if the testator had been in a building where there were dozens of disinterested witnesses roaming around (say doctors and nurses, for example).
What two lessons can we take from this case?
The first lesson is the same as in the iPhone will case—this decision is an outlier, and should not be relied upon. The judge here noted that there is no provision under Ohio law regarding electronic wills, but expressed his opinion that it was time for the law to catch up to the 21st century. Until such time, you should only rely on the statute governing wills in your state.
Second, do not wait until you are lying in a hospital bed to prepare your will. Contemplating one’s own mortality can be extremely difficult, but adopting a head in the sand attitude will not change the inevitable. Being prepared for sickness or death by having an estate plan in place is an important responsibility of being an adult, just like life or health insurance. By starting the planning process early, you can carefully review how you want your assets distributed, and avoid the potential danger of any future paper shortages. And in the unfortunate event you do need to hire me for a hospital bedside will, trust that I will bring my own pen and notepad.