Tax Law Blog: Electronic Signatures, What's Next?


While more and more transactions are eliminating paper and becoming completely electronic, I think we all assumed certain documents would still need to be signed on paper. For example, real estate documents, tax documents, and official court documents. Looking back, it is somewhat surprising to learn the first e-filing of federal tax returns started in 1986 when no-tax-due returns could be e-filed by select practitioners in a pilot program. In 1990, the program was more widely available, including filing balance-due returns. Now, electronic filing is allowed on almost all returns (and required on certain returns by certain practitioners). In 2012, almost 100 million taxpayers filed electronically.

For once it appears the tax system was ahead of the game. Over the last few years, courts in the State of Iowa have been transitioning to electronic filing. It seems the days of needing original signatures on the original document to be filed with the court are gone. One document that still must be in writing is a Will. Or does it?

A district court judge in Ohio ruled recently that a will written and signed on a tablet computer was a valid Will. Ohio law, like Iowa, required the Will be "written" and witnessed. The judge determined the Will which was written on the tablet, and then printed onto a paper form so it could be filed with the court, met the requirements. (The Will was also properly witnessed. Here is the American Bar Association Journal article on the case which links to a local newspaper article.) Not surprisingly, the statute did not define "written."

Obviously there are concerns regarding authentication and forgery. But if the IRS thought years ago that electronic signatures were acceptable for tax returns, maybe states will follow suit and clarify whether an electronically drafted and signed Will will be considered valid.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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