Welcome to CPA at Law, helping individuals and small businesses plan for the future and keep what they have.

This is the personal blog of Sterling Olander, a Certified Public Accountant and Utah-licensed attorney. For over thirteen years, I have assisted clients with estate planning and administration, tax mitigation, tax controversies, small business planning, asset protection, and nonprofit law.

I write about any legal, tax, or technological information that I find interesting or useful in serving my clients. All ideas expressed herein are my own and don't constitute legal or tax advice.

Utah Adopts Uniform Electronic Wills Act

Beginning August 31, 2020, pursuant to the Uniform Electronic Wills Act, Utahns have the option of executing a last will and testament without the traditional paper and ink and physical presence of witnesses. Before the adoption of the Electronic Wills Act, wills in Utah were generally required to (i) be in writing, (b) signed by the testator, and (c) signed by at least two individuals, each of whom signed within a reasonable time after witnessing the signing of the will. The Electronic Wills Act keeps each of these requirements but adapts them for a modern world.

An electronic will must still be "in writing," or more particularly, in "a record that is readable as text at the time of signing." A "record" includes electronically-stored information "retrievable in perceivable form." Importantly, a video or audio recording of the testator's last wishes does not constitute a will because the electronic files would not be "readable as text."

An electronic will must still be signed by the testator, but under the Electronic Wills Act, "signing" includes executing or adopting a tangible symbol or logically associating with the record a symbol or process with the intent of authenticating or adopting the record as the last will. The Electronic Wills Act is designed to be flexible enough so that no particular software or application is needed to adopt a will.

Finally, an electronic will must still be signed by two individual witnesses who observed the testator sign the electronic will, but such individuals need not be in the physical presence of the testator; electronic presence is sufficient. Under the Electronic Wills Act, "electronic presence" requires that the witnesses be "communicating in real time to the same extent as if the individuals were physically present." An electronic will may be simultaneously executed, attested, and made self-proving with the help of a notary public as described in Utah Code 75-2-1408.  This section expressly supersedes the Notaries Public Act, meaning that remote notarization appears to be permitted in the context of an electronic will.

Estate planning practitioners have resisted laws permitting electronic wills for many years, fearing that electronic wills would be more likely to result in contests and other estate controversy. While these concerns will likely persist, the current pandemic has clearly illustrated the need for an electronic wills option. Currently, Utah is one of only a handful of states have adopted an electronic will statute, but more states are sure to follow.