Does a Florida Will Need to Be Notarized?
Like most states, Florida law requires a valid last will and testament to be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses, each of whom must also sign the will. The witnesses are usually disinterested parties–i.e., not individuals who stand to inherit under the will–and they do not necessarily need to know the contents of the document itself. All the witnesses must attest to is that the testator or testatrix (the person making the will) signed the document in their presence and declared it to be their will.
A question we often get is, “Do I have to notarize my will?” The short answer is “no.” Although other types of estate planning documents are typically notarized, Florida law specifically states wills need to be witnessed as described above. A will therefore does not need to be notarized in order to be valid.
Some wills do, however, contain a separate affidavit that does need to be notarized. This affidavit is signed by the witnesses, not the testator or testatrix, and simply confirms they witnessed the signing of the will as required by law. A will that includes such a notarized affidavit is referred to as a “self-proving” will, and it eliminates the need for the witnesses to personally appear in probate court should a dispute later arise over the validity of the will.
Wife’s Mistake Leads to Invalidation of Late Husband’s Will
In a recent Florida probate case, Bitetzakis v. Bitetzakis, there was apparently some confusion as to whether a will needed to be notarized. Unfortunately, as a result of this confusion a Florida appeals court ultimately declared the will invalid.
Here is what happened. This case involves a Hillsborough County man (the decedent) who died in 2017. Roughly four years earlier, he purportedly signed a will. This did not occur at an attorney’s office, but rather in his kitchen. The decedent was having breakfast with his wife and two friends. The decedent asked the friends to witness the signing of his will.
The witnesses proceeded to sign the will. The decedent then started to sign his own name. But halfway through–literally, the decedent had signed his first name only–the decedent’s wife asked him to stop. The wife believed, incorrectly, they needed to have the will notarized.
The next day, according to the wife, the decedent went to see a notary. He did not actually bring the will itself. Rather, he brought the affidavit commonly used for self-proving wills. The decedent then signed this affidavit in the notary’s presence, even though this document was meant for the witnesses. (After all, a person cannot witness his own will.)
After the decedent passed away, a Florida probate court still admitted the will, deeming the husband’s partial signature on the document sufficient proof of intent. But the Florida Second District Court of Appeals reversed and held the will was inadmissible. The appeals court noted this was a “unique” situation, but nevertheless said that since the husband never finished signing his full name on the actual will, the document did not comply with Florida law.
Speak with a Florida Wills & Trusts Lawyer Today
Cases like this illustrate why you should never try and execute a will without the advice and assistance of a qualified Fort Myers estate planning attorney. If you have any questions or concerns about the estate planning process, contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 today to schedule a free consultation.