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Are electronic wills and notaries coming to Florida?

A will is an important component - typically the centerpiece - of a solid estate plan. And to be valid in Florida, all wills must be properly executed (signed) by the testator. When it comes to preparing a will in the Sunshine State, one of the main requirements is that the signature of the testator must be witnessed by at least two other people. This helps to prevent fraud and reduce the chances of the will's validity being challenged.

Although it's not required by law, having the signatures of the testator and witness notarized creates what's called a "self-proving will," which can make the probate process considerably easier. The signature requirements and notarial option have been fixtures of Florida probate law for nearly as long as there has been probate law in the state. Lately, though, some Florida lawmakers are wondering if there might not be an easier way.

A bill that was recently introduced in the Florida State Senate would allow for more secure electronic will execution, as well as online notaries. Proponents of the legislation claim that allowing online notarization would make the service more available to Floridians. At the same time, the bill is attempting to make some changes that shore up how electronic wills are executed, attempting to overcome many of the legal criticisms of the e-wills legislation that passed the Senate last year.

Critics of the new legislation claim that e-wills continue to present problems with validity and open the door to undue influence, while online notarization appears to invite all manner of fraud. The contentious nature of the debate surrounding the legislation seems to signal that even if the laws are enacted, it will be some time before everyone is on board. More importantly, regardless of how wills are executed or notarized, the assistance of an experienced probate attorney will help to ensure that they are valid.

Source: WFSU Public Media, "Lawmakers say it's time to update notaries, wills," Regan McCarthy, March 6, 2018

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