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Florida Estate Planning Evolves As COVID-19 Pandemic Continues

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The law must evolve in order to truly serve the people it governs, and since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, legal professionals are beginning to look for ways to change things to make things easier for their clients. One way has been in estate planning – even before the onset of the pandemic, some jurisdictions (the state of Florida included) have been passing laws to make it easier for people to access estate planning tools, and to ensure that if someone wants to make a will, that they are able to do that without any potentially unnecessary barriers to accessibility.

Remote Notarization

Florida’s law permitting remote online notarizations (RONs) was signed in June 2019, but it did not come into force until January 1, 2020. It allows all types of estate planning documents, including wills and trusts, to be notarized remotely – that is, the notary public (and any witnesses required) do not have to be present in the same room as the signer. The notary must have qualified themselves to perform RONs by taking the appropriate course, and at the time of the signing, they must be present in Florida, though the other parties can be anywhere in the United States. In addition, the notary must indicate in the document that the notarization was completed remotely, or there may be issues further down the lane because it is not assumed that the notarization was remote.

While it is still a good idea to review and sign estate planning documents in person, if at all possible, it is important that you have the option for an online notarization at this point – as of this writing, Florida’s coronavirus case numbers are stable but serious, and especially for the elderly, going outside can still be an activity that is more dangerous than necessary. Disabled people may also benefit from remote access to notaries public, since very often, notaries are not very accessible for them. If you require a notary’s assistance to ensure that your will is valid, this option can make all the difference.

Electronic Wills Now Permitted

The other major change in Florida estate planning is that electronic wills are now officially permitted.  Historically, witnesses had to be physically present in the room with the testator in order for a will to be considered valid, but this is no longer the case. Now, under the new law, the witnesses must still be present with the testator, but the definition of “present” has been expanded to include being present via audio-video technology, such as via Zoom or Google Meet, so the requirement can be filled without breaking social distancing. The new definition of ‘electronic will’ is actually wide enough to encompass certain types of trusts, as well as powers of attorney and health care advance directives.

It is important to keep in mind that permitting electronic wills does not necessarily mean Florida will permit holographic wills (that is, wills executed in handwriting, usually without the presence of witnesses). Florida law generally bars holographic wills because there is no person to attest that the will is valid and accurate if the testator executes the will themselves; the only real exception is if a will is found that is handwritten but otherwise compiles with the requirements of Florida’s law on wills (which is quite unlikely). An electronic will may conceivably be a holographic will, but not necessarily.

Call A Florida Estate Planning Lawyer Today

As COVID-19 continues to affect everything about our society, there are certain things that matter more than ever now. Estate planning is one of those things, and everyone should have equal access to the things that make it possible. If you have questions or concerns about these new changes to Florida law, an experienced Naples estate planning attorney at the Nici Law Firm are a good place to start in trying to get those questions answered. Contact our offices today via phone at 239-449-6150 to speak to an attorney.

Resources:

flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2011/732.502

flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2019/0117.209

https://www.nicilawfirm.com/florida-probate-prenuptial-agreements/

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