Most people know that they should have a will, but many don't know what a will is and how it works.
Here’s a quick checklist for making a will in Florida:
A will, also called a "last will and testament," can help you protect your family and your property. You can use a will to:
In Florida, if you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to state "intestacy" laws. Florida's intestacy law gives your property to your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. If you have neither a spouse nor children, your grandchildren or your parents will get your property. This list continues with increasingly distant relatives, including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and your spouse's relatives. If the court exhausts this list to find that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, the state will take your property.
No. You can make your own will in Florida, using Nolo's Quicken WillMaker & Trust. However, you may want to consult a lawyer in some situations. For example, if you think that your will might be contested or if you want to disinherit your spouse, you should talk with an attorney. Nolo's will-making products tell you when it's wise to seek a lawyer's advice.
To make a will in Florida, you must be:
Florida does not recognize nuncupative (oral) or holographic (handwritten) wills that are not witnessed. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 732.502.
Traditionally, wills in Florida have been made on hard copy on actual paper. However, Florida now allows wills to be in a digital format. (See “Can I Make a Digital or Electronic Will?,” below.)
To finalize your will in Florida:
Specifically, you must sign at the end of your will. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 732.502.
While Florida law allows an "interested person" who stands to inherit under your will to serve as a witness, it's usually not a good idea. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 732.504.
No, in Florida, you do not need to notarize your will to make it legal.
However, Florida allows you to make your will "self-proving" and you'll need to go to a notary if you want to do that. A self-proving will speeds up probate because the court can accept the will without contacting the witnesses who signed it.
To make your will self-proving, you and your witnesses will go to the notary and sign an affidavit that proves who you are and that each of you knew you were signing the will. You can do this at the time of signing your will or later. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 732.503.
Yes. In Florida, you can use your will to name a personal representative who will ensure that the provisions in your will are carried out after your death. Nolo's Quicken WillMaker & Trust produces a letter to your personal representative that generally explains what the job requires. If you don't name a personal representative, the probate court will appoint someone to take on the job of winding up your estate.
If you need to make changes to your will, it’s best to revoke it and make a new one. However, if you have only very simple changes to make, you could add an amendment to your existing will – this is called a codicil. In either case, you will need to finalize your changes with the same formalities you used to make your original will (see above).
If you and your spouse divorce (or if a court determines that your marriage is not legal), Florida law revokes any language in your will that leaves property to your spouse or names your spouse to be your personal representative. This rule does not apply if you specifically state in your will (or divorce decree) that divorce should not affect the provisions in your will. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 732.507. If you have any concerns about the effects of divorce on your will, see an estate planning attorney for help.
In a few states, you can make a legal will digitally – that is, you can make the will, sign it, and have it witnessed without ever printing it out. Such electronic wills are currently available in only a minority of states, but Florida is one of these states.
Under Florida's law, electronic wills are valid if they meet all of the necessary requirements. (Fla. Stat. § 732.521.) These requirements include:
The law allows remote online witnessing and notarization of wills via real-time, two-way audio-video communication.
Notably, Florida has built into its laws a protection for vulnerable adults. If remote witnessing is used, the will maker must answer questions about whether the will maker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, has a long-term disability that impairs daily living, or requires assistance with daily care. If the will maker answers yes to any of the questions, then the will ceremony must stop, and remote online witnessing is not an available option. (Fla. Stat. § 117.285.) An e-will can be self-proving in Florida only if it meets several requirements surrounding a qualified custodian, including keeping the will in a secure system so that it cannot be altered. (Fla. Stat. § 733.524.)
You can find Florida’s laws about making wills here: Florida Statutes Title XLII Estates and Trusts Chapter 732 Probate Code Intestate Succession and Wills.