You may remember a movie from 15 or so years ago called "My Life," starring Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman, in which a terminally ill man films a video for his unborn child to watch after the man passes away after a fight with cancer. The father essentially wanted the child to know who the father was and what the father had learned in his own life, since he would not be around when the child was growing up.
While the movie was not focused upon an estate or trust battle, I was still reminded of "My Life" yesterday when reading the December 7, 2009 post on the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog, which had an interesting link to a December 3, 2009 Wall Street Journal article written by Kristen McNamara and entitled "Lights, Camera . . . Last Words." The article discussed videos as a way of allowing the dying to say a few last words and also possibly prevent legal disputes regarding property division after death. Here is an excerpt from the Blog and the article itself:
"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."
My personal view on this is that---overall---technology is a good thing and if it can be used to help rather than hinder in the course of estate planning, then it should be considered as part of the process. After all, there is little doubt in the criminal context that many a disputed traffic stop, questioned search and seizure, and controversial police station interrogation could be averted if such proceedings were videotaped to ward off the "he said, she said" nature of these events. Likewise, it seems that if an individual had a video camera and (vis-a-vis an objective, detached cameraman) proceeded to film a will or trust signing ceremony, held up each page of the document to the camera, interviewed or showed the witnesses and other participants, videotaped the actual signatures and notarizations, and otherwise allowed the individual to talk at length during the proceeding, that this could conceivably preclude many a disputed proceeding involving fraud, undue influence, and the like.