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Arizona Adopts Electronic Will Law Effective Next Year

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Electronic will

Perhaps you are waiting to sign your will. You might be thinking that you should be able to sign an electronic will. Maybe you want to hold off until then. Well, you will only have another year to wait.

What is an electronic will?

So what is the big deal, anyway? Can’t you sign your will electronically right now? After all, you can buy a house, manage your financial accounts, and even hire a dentist, doctor, lawyer or other professional with a digital signature. Why wouldn’t you be able to sign your will the same way?

Because the law doesn’t permit it. Your will has to be signed, and “signed” for these purposes means paper, pen, pencil — all the traditional accoutrements implied by the notion of a signature. That has long been true everywhere in the U.S. — except, as it turns out, two other states. Nevada has long had a law permitting digital signatures on a will (though no one seems to have used the law). Indiana adopted its electronic will law last year.

Why would you want to sign an electronic will? Because you could. Because you like keeping all your files as electronic versions. Maybe because you want to be a trailblazer. Or perhaps you just want to save trees.

Now Arizona joins the ranks of states recognizing signatures on an electronic will. The legislature passed, and our governor signed, House Bill 2656. It specifically permits digital signatures on an electronic will that has never been reduced to a paper or printed version.

Set your stylus down — for now

The first thing to know about the new law is that it is not immediately effective. In fact, it will not become effective when most other laws do, in early August. It specifically says that it is not effective until June 30, 2019.

In the meantime, you will still need to sign your will in the traditional manner. You should not delay, and certainly not for a full year, just to be a pioneer. Besides, if you really want, you can sign a new will digitally next year.

Actually, that’s not quite correct. If you are really eager to sign an electronic will right away, you should be able to take advantage of Indiana’s or Nevada’s law. Can you do that while sitting in your Tucson living room? Perhaps, but we’ll see as the law develops. As we are Tucson elder law attorneys, we won’t even imagine whether you could do the same thing while sitting in Tampa, Florida (or even Sacramento, California). You get our point: state laws may vary.

How will you sign your will?

Once the effective date has arrived, signing a digital will should be straightforward. At least, the concept and execution should be familiar. You’ll be able to look at an electronic version of your will and sign on a tablet or touch screen using that stylus. Or you should be able to click on keyboard choices.

The concept of “signature” will be different. Rather than focusing on your handwriting and proof of your physical presence, it will focus on the electronic representation — and proof of your physical presence.

You may already know that Arizona permits you to sign a will without witnesses, provided that it is in your own handwriting. Such a will is called “holographic,” and will be recognized in many states. In fact, your Arizona holographic will should be recognized in every state, since they are permitted for people in Arizona. “Should be” but might not be — at least one state would invalidate your Arizona holographic will if you later moved into that state. But that’s a topic for another day.

Arizona’s new law will not allow a holographic electronic will. In other words, you’ll need to print it out and sign it if you want to avoid witnesses. Writing it on your tablet with a stylus and signing it will (probably) not count.

Witnesses and notarization

One key item in Arizona’s new electronic will statute: you still need two witnesses, and they need to be present when you sign. Well, that’s not completely true — they can be present when you affirm that you have signed. But physical presence is key.

Many people think that your paper will needs to be notarized. It does not (though it may be easier to introduce in probate court if it has been). The rule will be the same for an electronic will. There is, however, a mechanism for adding notarization.

Arizona does not yet explicitly permit a notary public to act remotely. In other words, the notary must be physically present to see the signatures — whether electronic or by pen on paper. That might change in the next year or so, but for the moment that will mean that an electronic will normally will need the signer, the two witnesses and the notary to all be together at the same time.

That’s a bit of an oversimplification. It actually will be possible for the will’s signer to have one notary, and each witness have different notaries. That will be confusing, though, and so electronic wills should ordinarily be signed with all four participants together in person.

Does that mean this is all a lot of words about nothing?

Frankly, it might be. We’ll see how much demand builds up for electronic wills. We also may see changes to the new process even before it becomes effective.

None of that even deals with the problem of storage of an electronic will. Nor have we (yet) discussed filing of a digital document with a paper-based probate court. We also haven’t reviewed how the new electronic will law affects trusts, or powers of attorney.

So many questions, and so few answers. But Arizona is taking a small step toward recognition of modern digital realities.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.