Jan 1, 2014

They're not like Big Macs: Holographic wills not admissable in Florida

From Fairbanks to Fort Lauderdale, a Big Mac is a Big Mac, sesame seed bun, special sauce and all. The situation is quite different when it comes to wills. Every state has its own laws. A will that is valid in one state may be tossed out of the probate court in another state. Floridians are well advised to keep this in mind, since so many Floridians own property in other states or move here with wills drafted and executed in other states. 

One major difference among state laws is the validity of a holographic will, in other words, one written in the testator's own handwriting which is not necessarily witnessed by two witnesses. Some states allow them, including New Jersey, Nevada, Colorado, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia. Florida does not. If you are a legal resident of Florida but at the time of your death have a holographic will valid in another state,  the Florida Probate Court will not accept it. That means that your assets will be distributed under Florida intestacy laws, not according to the wishes in your will.

Another complication may arise if you live in a state that recognizes a holographic will but if you own property in Florida. In a recent case, Lee v. Estate of Payne, the decedent, a Colorado resident, had a holographic, unwitnessed will valid in that state. The will sought to dispose of the decedent's Florida property. Unfortunately for the beneficiary, Florida would not accept the will because it lacked the two witnesses required by Florida law.

The bottom line: If you move to Florida from another state, or if you reside elsewhere but own Florida property you wish to pass under your will, you are well advised to have a qualified Florida estate planning attorney review your existing will. 

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