The Human Component

March 28, 2018

As we approach the quarter-century, technology and automation is becoming more salient in our daily lives. Self-checkouts at grocery stores, self check-in kiosks at airports, ordering on a tablet at McDonald’s, online banking, Last Will & Testament (“Will”) writing software and self-driving cars are just a few of the ways technology is shaping our lives. The exponential rate at which technology is advancing, begs the question: should certain activities be performed by human beings or machines?

Self-Driving Car

A recent tragic accident illustrates the tension between man and machine. A woman was struck and killed on March 18, 2018 by an autonomous car operated by Uber in Tempe, Arizona. It was believed to be the first pedestrian death associated with self-driving technology.

The car, a Volvo XC90 SUV, equipped with Uber’s sensor system was in autonomous mode when it hit Elaine Herzberg, a 49-year-old woman around 10 p.m. that night. The only person in the vehicle at that time was a human safety driver.

The vehicle was travelling at approximately 40 miles per hour on a road with a 45 m.p.h speed limit when it collided with Ms. Herzberg, who was walking her bicycle across the road, according to the Tempe Police. Officials also reported that it did not appear as though the car had decelerated before impact and that the Uber safety driver had shown no signs of impairment. The weather was clear and dry. Released footage of the accident indicated that Ms. Herzberg emerged from the shadows suddenly but it is unclear whether a human operator would have been able to react in time.

Estate Planning Software

Every year, hundreds of people bypass attorneys and create their own Wills and other estate planning documents with the help of online tools such as LegalZoom, Nolo, and Rocket Lawyer. But can these tools really save you a visit to a lawyer?

Based on an article published in Consumer Reports Magazine; using any of the three services is generally better than drafting the documents yourself without legal education or not having them at all. But unless your needs are simple i.e., you want to leave your entire estate to your spouse – none of the Will-writing products is likely to meet all your needs. In some cases, the other documents aren’t specific enough or contain language that could lead to “an unintended result.”

Some attorneys feel the greatest danger of preparing one’s estate plan with LegalZoom or other providers is that they give clients a false sense of security. Consider the following example: A New Jersey resident opted to purchase – at a low cost – a Will form kit. He carefully handwrote his intended dispositions into the form document. He failed to have it properly witnessed. Believing he had completed his “simple Will” correctly, he signed it and then committed suicide. His heirs, however, eventually bore the costs. In the ensuing lawsuit (Matter of Will of Feree), a New Jersey trial court struggled to interpret and give effect to his Will. Under New Jersey probate law, the language on the pre-printed form was not admissible because the Will was not properly signed by Mr. Feree (most states require a Will to be signed in the presence of two witnesses). The court’s efforts to salvage Mr. Feree’s work – and the trip to the New Jersey appellate court surely cost the family tens of thousands of dollars or more. Mr. Feree never had to deal with those costs, since he passed away believing he saved money.

The Human Element

It is clear that technology and automation are making our lives easier in certain aspects, such as online shopping and ordering food on a smart phone. Problems may arise when completely substituting human judgment and expertise with machines in accomplishing complex tasks. Driving a car, like practicing law, takes years of experience to become proficient and requires continuous human judgment. Experience demonstrates that it may be imprudent to entrust something as important as our safety and legal interests solely to computers. Contact OC Estate and Elder Law at (954) 251-0332 or to receive a personalized consultation regarding your estate planning and elder law concerns.