Monday, December 7, 2009
The following excerpts are from Kristen McNamara, Lights, Camera...Last Words, Wall St. J., Dec. 3, 2009:
Some individuals have found a way to breathe life into dry estate-planning documents: They're supplementing them with personal messages via video.
With guidance—and caveats—from attorneys and financial advisers, some elderly and terminally ill individuals, and even some young parents, are picking up video cameras or hiring professional videographers to share their life stories, express hopes for younger generations and explain why they're leaving certain assets to certain family members. * * *
[E]xperts say that while videos can head off disputes, if not carefully executed, they also can backfire. * * *
A video may make sense if you are concerned that an heir will claim you weren't competent when you signed estate-planning documents or were pressured to distribute your assets a certain way, estate-planning attorneys say. Videos in which lucid individuals review their wills with their attorneys and answer questions that demonstrate their understanding of the documents and confirm they weren't coerced into any decisions can be useful in rebuffing challenges, they say. Such videos are typically filmed during a will-signing in an attorney's office and are kept by the attorney, along with the estate-planning documents. * * *
Attorneys generally caution against homemade videos, saying they are more likely to cause problems than those produced in consultation with an attorney. A video filmed by a beneficiary, for example, could give rise to conflict-of-interest questions. And, whether filmed professionally or not, a video in which a person looks ill or uneasy could raise questions about his or her cognitive abilities.
Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.
For more information, albeit somewhat dated, you may find it interesting to read my first law review article (which was adapted from my LL.M. thesis 27 years ago), Videotaping the Will Execution Ceremony - Preventing Frustration of the Testator's Final Wishes, 15 St. Mary's L.J. 1 (1983), in which I set forth the pros and cons of such videos and a detailed "script" for preparing the video.