Estate Lawyer: Probating an iPhone Will; Revisiting 2009; and The Bobrow 700

Posted on April 2nd, 2014 at 9:00 AM

By: Robert L. Moshman, Esq.

Is an iPhone message a valid Will? Why do the President’s budget proposals keep returning the transfer taxation to 2009 standards…but not until 2018? What prompted 700 tax lawyers to come to the aid of their colleague Alvan Bobrow? Can owners reclaim a painting that was nationalized during the Communist revolution?

These are questions with a theme of counter-intuitive logic. Spoiler alert, the answers could be: Testamentary intent, politics, a secret tax attorney vow of allegiance, and international law (or fear of Vladimir Putin). Without further adieu, here is an unusual collection of fascinating cases.

An App For What?

Our existence in this digitized era is reduced to banality what with ephemeral electronic communications and ethereal files stored in clouds. Can we also expect to shuffle off this mortal coil with a final shout-out to the Twitterverse: “Bad vibe, signing off @cruelworld #worstdayever?”  

Alas, for Karter Yu, there would be no formal estate planning, no growing old with the security of well-crafted documents, no comfort, and no time. Driven by whatever desperation, he communicated his farewells in a series of emails and text messages from his iPhone, wrote a message on the phone that he referred to as his Will, and then committed suicide.

Our old-school colleagues at the Bar embellish upon the sanctity of duly witnessed and notarized Wills and guard against tampering or forgery with raised seals, wax seals, ribbons, specialty papers, special fonts, and even rivets! Is the common law of probate prepared to acknowledge an unwitnessed iPhone document as a valid Will?

Apparently so. Mr. Yu’s case played out in Queensland, Australia, but the issue of an iPhone Will has captivated the attention of the international estate planning community. Almost everyone has phones capable of communicating testamentary intent. Mr. Yu could be you...

Read the full PDF here.

Related Attorneys: James J. Eccleston

Tags: Robert L. Moshman, Moshman, Estate Analyst

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