Text Messages as Wills

elderly woman looking at a cell phone

Technology makes it easier to determine who actually wrote a particular text.  That has implications for what courts will accept as valid wills, as an Australian case illustrates.

One of the first historical challenges that estate law needed to sort through was how to determine whether a document submitted as a will of a deceased person was actually what the deceased intended to do with his estate and not something someone else had made up.  Making that determination was not easy, since the deceased person was not available to question.

To overcome this problem, estate law adopted formal requirements for wills, such as that a will is signed by the will maker with witnesses present.

If the formal requirements were met, courts could assume the document in question was a valid will.  In some places, writings that did not meet the formal requirements could be accepted as valid wills.  However, this was true only if there was enough evidence to prove that the writing was intended as a will.

When something is now written using digital technology, it is easier than ever before for courts to determine whether or not a particular piece of writing was meant as a will.

An Australian court recently accepted an unsent text message as a valid will.

In that case, shortly before committing suicide, a man drafted a detailed message to his brother leaving his modest estate to the brother and a nephew at the exclusion of his wife, who had recently decided to leave him.

Fox News reported on the story in "Unsent text message OK as valid will, says Australian court."

Just because a court can use digital technology to determine that something is a will, does not mean a court will do that in every case.  It’s always best to not rely on the possibility and to create a will that meets the formal requirements.

Reference: Fox News (Oct. 9, 2017) "Unsent text message OK as valid will, says Australian court."


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