Is an e-mail legally binding as a Will?

UPDATED: Jun 6, 2011

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Is an e-mail legally binding as a Will?

My father passed away in 6 months ago after being married for 6 weeks. A few days prior to his death, he sent my brother, his current wife and I (his daughter) an email stating his intentions for his belongings/real estate in the event of his death. There was no formal will beyond this email. In short, the email favored my brother and I but unless it’s a legal document, my stepmom (of 6 weeks) has the right to almost all of his assets. Can we use this email as a legally binding document with regard to property? She’s out to take it all.

Asked on June 6, 2011 under Estate Planning, Nebraska


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

While it's always worth consulting with an attorney (e.g. a trusts and estates lawyer) when there's much at stake, the answer is *probably* no--the email has no binding force. That's because wills are creatures of law--that is, they are established by state statute or law--and they must comply with all the requirements of the law that creates them. Wills have very specific, and legally binding, requirements as to how they must be signed and witnesses; it is almost impossible to believe that a simple email would meet these requirements. (Sometimes a will can be enforceable despite not meeting all the formalities, BUT those wills, called "holographic" wills, typically have to be handwritten, in the testator's own hand.) Again, it's worth consulting with someone who can evaluate the email and all the specific circumstances in detail, but it's most likely that  the email will not be legally binding; it may have expressed your father's intentions, but that alone does not give it effect.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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