By Beckett C. Horner, Esq.
May 16, 2017
On May 5, the Florida House and Senate passed into law House Bill 277, which authorizes the new Florida Electronic Wills Act. The new legislation, which will allow persons to effectively draft and execute Wills through an online portal, will go into effect as of April 1, 2018. Current Florida law requires numerous safeguards to be implemented when executing estate planning documents. The documents must be witnessed by two disinterested witnesses, and the presiding attorney is supposed to confirm that the Testator complies with the “Will formalities” before execution.
In order to apply similar requirements to the electronic execution of Wills, the Judiciary established similar rules, including the requirement that the Testator verbally confirm several questions aimed at assuring the Testator has the requisite capacity to sign estate planning documents, and the requirement that the electronic execution be video-recorded and saved, with a 360-degree view of the room during execution.
Although the Electronic Wills Act aims to provide a greater number of Testators with an opportunity to establish an estate plan when traditional attorney services may be cost-prohibitive, the guidelines by which an estate plan may be established under the new act still provides opportunities for fraud. An estate planning attorney has the best interests of his or her clients at heart during the entire estate planning process, and the presence of the attorney at conferences and at an estate plan signing is the best way to ensure that the testator’s estate plan is actually what the testator wants. Without the attorney backstop, the potential for fraud and abuse with regard to electonic wills is increased.
As with all things, we will wait to see how this plays out. If you have any questions regarding electonic wills or traditional estate planning, please do not hesitate to contact me at my office; firstname.lastname@example.org, (772) 234-5500.