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Florida Law Requires Formal Process When Writing a Will

A decision by an Australian court has caused quite a stir among American attorneys who specialize in estate planning. The case, which came before the Supreme Court of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, concerns a will written by a man named Karter Yu. In 2011, Yu was apparently feeling despondent and began writing a series of farewell messages to his friends and family. He then created a document that he intended to serve as his will shortly before taking his own life.

What makes the case so unusual? He typed the will on his iPhone.

In 2013, the Australian court decided the will was valid, prompting some commentators to coin a new phrase in the area of probate law: the iWill.

New Technology Meets Old Laws

Yu, according to an article in the New York Bar Association’s legal journal, used the iPhone’s Notes app to write and save the document, which he signed electronically by typing his name at the bottom. Naturally, the case caught the attention of the legal community because even though the court’s decision only applies in Australia, it raises questions that jurisdictions all over the globe will have to wrestle with as smartphones become increasingly prevalent in our everyday lives.

But before you jump to the conclusion that “there’s an app for that” when it comes to your own estate planning, there are some important caveats to consider.

State laws have long-established provisions to deal with “holographic wills,” which are wills that were entirely handwritten, sometimes by people in tragic situations in which they knew they were going to die. Many states accept these holographic wills as valid. Florida does not.

Witness Requirements for Wills in Florida

In Florida, a will is only valid if the person writing it – known in legal terminology as the “testator” – complies with certain formalities. These formalities include signing the will in the presence of at least two qualifying witnesses. Then those witnesses must also sign the document in the presence of each other as well as the testator. A handwritten will is only valid in Florida if that document also complies with the formalities.

In the Yu case, the Australian court noted that the document stored on Yu’s iPhone began with these words: “This is the last Will and Testament,” followed by Yu’s name and address and various instructions on how his property should be disposed. Under Australian law, the judge could consider all of these facts in deciding the will’s validity. In its decision, the court wrote: “In particular, the circumstance that the document was created shortly after a number of final farewell notes, and in contemplation of the deceased’s imminent death, and the fact that it gave instructions about the distribution of his property, all confirm an intention that the document be operative on his death.”

Do You Have Questions About a Will?

In the United States, the criteria that judges are allowed to use in deciding such questions vary by state law. That’s why it’s important to consult an experienced attorney when writing a will or making other estate plans to ensure that your wishes will be carried out.

At the Law Offices of Larry E. Bray, P.A., we help individuals at all income levels determine which options are right for them when it comes to planning for their family’s financial future. To arrange a consultation, contact our Lake Worth, Boca Raton, or West Palm Beach office today.

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