Home > Journals > LAWREVIEW > Vol. 95 > No. 3 (2022)
The Wills of COVID-19: The Technological Push for Change in New York Trusts and Estates Law
Sirens filled the crisp, cool air of early March 2020 as COVID- 19 overtook the United States. New York City, once a metropolis of busy human interaction, became an epicenter of isolation, anxiety, and fear as the pandemic swept across the city and state of New York. While quarantining at home, New Yorkers addressed their to-do lists: they cleaned out cluttered rooms and finally fixed leaky sinks and drafty windows. Many New Yorkers also worried about the ever-present threat of falling ill; so they decided to execute their wills. Should something happen to them, they wanted to ensure their property would be distributed as they wished. But could they execute a will from their homes? And if they did, would it be valid?
Because the spread of COVID-19 caused a global shutdown, several states took action to maintain individuals’ ability to execute legal documents remotely, through technological means including e-notarization and e-attestation. For example, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed Executive Order 202.7 with the intention of allowing legal documents to be issued through e-notarization. Soon after, Governor Cuomo signed Executive Order 202.14, which allowed for e-attestation of wills. Because the breadth and repercussions of the pandemic are still unclear, the duration of efforts such as e-notarization and e-attestation remain uncertain. Furthermore, whether these changes will effectively fulfill the purposes of codified due execution formalities can only be determined when the wills are eventually submitted for probate. Therefore, because the traditional means of validity, such as attestation and notarization, will not be met, whether electronically executed wills will be probated if submitted to a court remains unclear.