Is an e-mail legally binding as a Will?

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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

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 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.


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