Electronic Wills Went Live in Florida July 1 – What That Means for Estate Planning
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
August 13, 2020
Estate planning isn’t always viewed as the most “up-to-date” industry. In some ways, that can be problematic, but in others it actually protects individuals and their loved ones. For better or worse, though, Florida’s governor has decided to ride the current digital wave by authorizing the use of electronic wills.
This gives many Floridians the opportunity to create, update, and sign a Last Will and Testament without leaving their home. However, it is important to understand that doing this is not as easy as typing up your will and storing it on your hard drive — and that not all wills are created equal.
Still, there are some definite benefits to having this ability, so if you or a loved one want to create an electronic will, read on to understand exactly what that means.
The History of Electronic Wills in Florida
This might not be the first time you’ve heard about the use of electronic wills in Florida. In 2017, a bill authorizing electronic wills was sent to Former Governor Rick Scott. He voted the bill down over concerns that elder fraud would spike in the state.
In order for it to pass, Florida lawmakers needed to make some changes. So they added protections to ensure that vulnerable people would not be taken advantage of by family members or fraudsters.
The bill landed on the governor’s desk again — this time, Ron DeSantis. DeSantis signed the bill, and the timing is admittedly pretty perfect. Although we’re starting to re-open the state, at-risk populations are still encouraged to stay inside and social distance to avoid contracting COVID-19.
This type of will went live on July 1. But how does the process work — and will this change the way estate planning is handled forever?
How Do Electronic Wills Work?
Previously, adults had to sign their will with two witnesses and a notary physically present. Not anymore. Now, a notary just has to “meet” with the person online. They will also ask a series of questions to ensure that the adult is of sound mind and signing their will without coercion or force from others.
These questions may include, “Is there anyone else in the room with you today?” or “Who is the name of your spouse?”
During this process, the signor will also have to acknowledge out loud that they are signing their will.
What About the Witnesses?
Witnesses do not have to be in the room with the adult signing their will unless the signor is considered a “vulnerable adult.”
Where Do You Keep the Audio File?
If a person with an electronic will passes away, a judge will need clear proof that they signed their will in the (online) presence of a notary. The judge needs to explicitly hear the answers to the questions and the statement from the decedent. This recording needs to be kept on an audio file that is then stored with a “qualified custodian.”
If the custodian does not meet Florida’s requirements (which includes living or doing business in Florida) or the file is lost, a judge will not accept the will.
The Future of Electronic Wills in Florida
The costs and requirements surrounding qualified custodians provide an obstacle for many Floridians who would otherwise potentially benefit from an electronic will. Experts believe that while most Floridians will stick to a traditional Last Will and Testament, it’s good to have the option of signing an electronic will for those who need it.
Want to learn more about electronic Wills and how you can plan for the future? Get in touch with a Florida estate planning attorney.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose®
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