A Will Without a Lawyer

A Will Without a Lawyer

Ms. DiChello also worries that some states might alter the Uniform Law Commission’s model. She said this happened to standardized trust language in a similar proposal a few years back.

“The Uniform Commission has proposed this model that very few states are going to adopt,” she said. “Some states are going to be more flexible than other states with what constitutes an e-will.”

Using the video chat poses a challenge, too. Israel Sands, a trust and estate lawyer in Miami Beach, Fla., said that the person signing the will might look fine, but that someone outside the video frame could be exerting undue influence. Having a lawyer draft the documents in addition to being there for the signing offers an extra level of protection.

“This is not like getting toilet paper delivered by Amazon instead of going to a supermarket,” he said. “This is a solemn thing that people don’t do every day.”

For people at risk of being exploited, an e-will may be particularly troublesome. John D. Dadakis, a partner at the law firm Holland & Knight, represented the estate of Huguette Clark, the reclusive heiress who died without close heirs or a will, in a contentious legal battle over her $300 million estate.

“With Huguette Clark, people were trying to get a will for her for ages,” he said. “How does a vulnerable person come to conclude that they can even create a document like this? Someone needs to write the will for her.”

Mr. Dadakis said such e-wills were likely to work better, at least now, for younger people with fewer assets. But if their lives grow more complicated, the online systems may not be robust enough.

“One of the reasons you go to good advisers is to really understand what you’re signing,” he said. “If you sign a will you’ve picked off a website but don’t realize what the will and trusts means, you’re creating even more difficulty for family to understand what’s happening to you and take care of you.”

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