You may have seen a video will presentation in a Hollywood movie or on television. Unvaryingly, you saw the lazy, greedy and aloof family members gathered around in the office of the estate planning lawyer to watch the curmudgeonly, but very prosperous, family patriarch or matriarch onscreen systematically castigate the various heirs before leaving them peanuts and then announcing that the bulk of the estate goes to the much maligned and now very wealthy downstairs maid. It is all very entertaining, comedic and, unless there is a written and signed will, totally irrelevant. If you do not have a written will, the court will not accept the video and you will be considered intestate regarding assets not in a trust or otherwise validly disposed of in other instruments or accounts.
This is not to say, however, that “video wills,” or at least a video presentation of one that has been validly drafted and signed in accordance with state law, is not relevant. In fact, it can be a valuable addition to your estate plan. For one thing, it gives family members a last look at someone who is still vibrant, in control of their faculties, and able to visually and more personally express their love for their family.
Video wills can serve other purposes as well:
- It presents you, as the testator, as having sound mind and in full control of your faculties. If an heir or omitted heir wishes to challenge the will, the video can be powerful evidence that you understood the nature and extent of your estate and that you were not being unduly influenced in disposing of assets as you have expressed in your written will.
- The video can record the will signing ceremony or event. Gather the required number of adult witnesses and have the camera record their signatures and their having observed you signing as well. State on camera that this document is your last will and testament, that no other wills are in existence or that this one supersedes any others. Have the camera clearly show the will after it is signed.
- More importantly, perhaps, is your explanation of why certain assets have gone to particular individuals. You can give your rationale for appointing someone as executor, as guardian of your children or the new owner of your dog. You can inform family members that you may have already provided for them so that more of your assets are going to a child who has not benefitted.
The video should be kept with the will in a safe and secure place where your appointed executor will know where to locate it. Keeping the will and video in a safe deposit box is generally not advised unless you have arranged for your personal representative to have access to it.
Dan McKenzie is a Denver estate planning lawyer who has advised clients on estate planning strategies including the preparation of so-called video wills. He will explain to you the required provisions and steps to validate your will and what you should consider including in it as well as if certain trusts are advised for your situation as well. If you do want a video presentation of your written will, Mr. McKenzie can fully brief you on how to present yourself so that it is an accurate and credible record of your mental capabilities and intent. Call his office for an in-depth evaluation of your current estate plan or to begin one.