The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) is a “model” legal code, which means that states must pass their own legislation for it to become law. The UETA gives electronic signatures the same legal validity as a handwritten “wet” signature for certain transactions that the parties have agreed to conduct electronically.
Every state except New York has passed its own version of the UETA. Although each state legislature can make changes to a model code as it sees fit, most states adopted the UETA in its entirety. The Texas implementation of the UETA can be found in Chapter 322 of the Texas Business and Commerce Code.
What Is Uniform Electronic Transactions Code?
The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) was initially proposed by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law in 1999. Historically, “hard copies” of contracts and other agreements were required to be executed using paper and pen. For a signature to be legally valid, it needed to be hand-signed in wet ink on paper. The UETA gives electronic signatures and documents the same legal significance as hard copies.
Does Texas Allow Electronic Wills?
No, Texas does not allow electronic wills. Wills must be executed in the physical presence of two witnesses and signed by hand by the person making the will and each witness. To be self-proving, a will must be notarized as well. During COVID-19, under the Secretary of State’s order temporary suspending statutes requiring in-person appearance before a notary public, the notarization may be done remotely.
While the UETA allows electronic signatures in many situations, it includes an explicit exception for wills. Because wills must be interpreted after their creators pass away, the thought at the time was that the enhanced execution requirements were necessary to ensure a will’s validity.
However, with modern advancements in technology, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law released the Uniform Electronic Wills Act (UEWA) in July 2019. Similar to the UETA, the UEWA allows for wills to be executed and witnessed electronically. However, only a few states have since adopted the UEWA or introduced other legislation authorizing the use of electronic wills. An Electronic Wills Act was proposed in Texas under Bill HB 3848 in 2019 but it has not been adopted or made law in Texas.
Texas is among the states that do not allow electronic wills. Nonetheless, it is probably a safe bet that Texas will eventually permit electronic wills as technology continues to advance and more states begin to adopt UEWA or otherwise legalize electronic wills.
Can a Power of Attorney Be Signed Electronically In Texas?
Yes, power of attorney documents can be signed electronically in Texas.
Unlike wills, power of attorney documents are not excluded from the scope of the UETA. Under Texas law, power of attorney documents can be signed electronically and notarized online. The online notary will confirm the identity of the person signing the document through personal knowledge or the remote presentation of government-issued identification credentials. Both parties will then sign the document electronically, and the notary will add an electronic notarial certificate to the document.
Can I Dispute Electronic Beneficiary Designations?
Yes, you can dispute electronic beneficiary designations, both for payable on death, transfer on death, and joint tenancy with rights of survivorship accounts.
Payable on Death (POD) accounts allow an account owner to name a beneficiary who will receive the assets when they die. The advantage of this type of account is that they pass outside probate, ensuring instant access for the beneficiary.
Some common types of POD accounts include:
- Life insurance policies
- Savings and checking accounts
- IRAs and other retirement accounts
- Brokerage accounts
- Certificates of deposit
Similarly, joint tenancy with rights of survivorship (JTWROS) accounts are owned by at least two people. The owners (called the “tenants”) have an equal right to the account’s assets while they are both alive to the extent they deposit funds, and the last surviving tenant receives all of the remaining assets.
The beneficiary designation process is much less secure than creating a will. In fact, many institutions allow beneficiary designations to be completed online without any confirmation of identity besides a login password. Opening a JTWROS account is subject to higher scrutiny than naming a beneficiary, but some banks still allow joint accounts to be opened electronically.
Beneficiary designations and JTWROS accounts can be challenged. Some common grounds for disputing a beneficiary or JTWROS account include:
- Lack of mental capacity
- Undue influence or duress
- Fraud or forgery
- Violation of community property laws or ERISA
- Invalidation through divorce
If you are interested in disputing an electronic beneficiary designation, reach out to a seasoned probate litigation attorney to discuss the situation. This area of law is highly specialized, so you’ll want to make sure you talk to a lawyer with experience in these types of cases. A knowledgeable professional can review the circumstances of the beneficiary designation and advise you as to how you can best protect your interests.
Have questions? We’re happy to discuss.
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About RMO, LLP
RMO LLP serves clients in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Orange County, San Diego, Kansas City, Miami, and communities throughout California, Florida, Missouri, and Kansas. Our founder, Scott E. Rahn, has been named “Top 100 – Trust and Estate Litigation” by SuperLawyers, Trusts and Estates Litigator of the Year, and Best Lawyers in America for Litigation – Trusts and Estates. For a free consultation, call (424) 320-9444 or visit: https://rmolawyers.com.