In honor of Earth Day: Can an estate plan be paperless?



Can an estate plan be paperless? In typical lawyerly fashion, the answer is it depends. Of course the less paper the better!

But to ensure your family has a smooth transition in case of your incapacity or disability, “paper-lite” might be a better approach than purely “paperless”.

Earth Day

We are not quite there technologically to electronically sign—-and more importantly, to rely on the widespread acceptance of an electronically signed-—Last Will & Testament or other estate planning document. For parents with minor children, another critical document is the Short-Term Guardianship legal document which for emergency purposes should always be available in paper form to ensure one’s children are not taken into state custody if the parents are injured or unavailable.

The Wall Street Journal cautions that a “paperless would can leave heirs in the dark.”

Until there is statutory acceptance of electronically signed estate planning documents, the best rule of thumb is to have a fully notarized and witnessed estate plan in its original paper form.

But there’s good news: a “paper-lite” law firm will better serve you—and the environment—as it is quite a convenient and efficient way to run an office. When trying to find the right attorney, from an environmental perspective it’s a great idea to find a firm that has made electronic the part of the process that traditionally takes up the most paper, such as using standard laminated items including agendas and informational pieces at meetings versus printing out one of each for every client meeting, proofreading drafts on the computer instead of on paper, and keeping all account statements in PDF versus paper form.

A sophisticated client relationship management software is also crucial to keeping an office paper-lite.

A good program will digitize client contact information, all communications with the client, and tasks associated with the client file. In addition your fully executed estate plan can be scanned into the firm’s system so that your attorney maintains a full copy of your estate plan in their file not in paper form but electronic form.

Don’t be bashful about asking your attorney how they make an office paper-lite. In honor of Earth Day, it’s certainly worth asking!