Effective January 1st, adult Florida residents will legally be allowed to execute an electronic last will and testament to dispose of their property when they die.
Florida is one of the early states permitting residents to have wills, along with some other types of estate planning documents, signed and completed electronically and online. This will require remote notarizations and witnesses to appear via certain approved secure video chat services, reports News Chief in the article “Electronic wills are coming, but are they a good idea?”
A movement to pass a similar law failed in 2017, as the result of a veto by then Governor Scott. However, a revised and approved version of the bill passed this summer and has already been signed into law by Governor DeSantis.
Under the new law, notaries will be required to undergo new training in order to be able to conduct executions of electronic wills. Certain qualified and state-approved custodians will oversee safeguarding the completed electronic wills for safekeeping, until the creator of the will dies, at which time the electronic wills may be electronically filed with the appropriate probate court.
Florida is only the fourth state to implement laws related to the execution and storage requirements for electronic wills. One concern is whether other states will honor these documents.
If other states will not accept the electronic wills, then a deceased person’s assets that are subject to probate administration in other states may not go to the person’s intended beneficiaries. Traditional, hard copy will executions typically occur in an attorney’s office, with proper procedures and safeguards put into place by a licensed attorney who practices in this area of the law. Many of these same procedures and safeguards will not be in place for electronic execution of electronic wills.
There is concern that these wills present an enticing target and that many family members will argue that the will is not valid, because of undue influence or a lack of capacity.
The 2019 version of the law has safeguards, that were not in the 2017 law, to protect vulnerable adults. However, until these electronic laws go through probate contests, there will not be much clarity for estate planning attorneys. One last concern—if the documents can be executed electronically, there are greater opportunities for criminals or people with bad intentions to more easily take advantage of vulnerable seniors.
Whether you agree that electronic wills are the future, this is still a very new process that has yet to be tried and tested. There will likely be more questions raised in the next few years about their safety and includes cases that will be taken to court to resolve issues and challenges.
For most people, this is the time to wait and see how the electronic will scenario works out. It may take a few years before the bumps are ironed out. In the meantime, meet with an elder law attorney to create an estate plan that is on paper and follows a traditional process.
Reference: News Chief (August 23, 2019) “Electronic wills are coming, but are they a good idea?”
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