You Ought to Be in Pictures: When and How to Create a Video Will

The process of creating a last will and testament hasn’t changed much over the centuries, and the requirements are few: Paper, pen, witnesses, and a testator who is of sound mind. This endurance and simplicity is one of the hallmarks of estate planning—and yet there are plenty of ways to incorporate technology into our practices and use it to our clients’ advantage. One way to do this is with the use of video wills.

A video will is created when the testator reads his or her will in front of a video camera, and occasionally explains why certain gifts were granted and why some were not. The benefit of creating a video will is that it can be used to establish the mental competence of the testator. As such, a video will can be especially helpful to elderly clients whose heirs might be inclined to contest the will on the grounds that the testator was not of sound mind.

Although a video will can be a helpful addition to your estate plan, it can in no way replace an official paper Will, drafted with the appropriate language and in presence of witnesses. A physical original of your will—drafted by a knowledgeable attorney and with your signature—is the only valid legal evidence of your wishes for the distribution of your property. A video will by itself does not hold up in probate court.

Technology brings great improvements to our lives, but adaptation takes time. Talk to your attorney first if you are considering incorporating a video will into your estate plan. Although it can be helpful, a video will is not always necessary, and could in some cases be detrimental if not done correctly. Reading your will on your couch while your cousin records with her handheld camera is not a valid video will, you should only film under the advice and supervision of your trusted attorney.