Valid Will in FloridaWhile it’s essential to write a will, having one only makes a difference if it actually works. To make a valid will in Florida, the document you create must meet all legal requirements. In this blog, we explain how to make a will in Florida that’s legally enforceable and effective when the time comes to use it. 

What Is a Last Will and Testament?

Before discussing how to make a valid last will and testament, let’s define what a will is and its purpose. A will is a legal document that provides instructions on how to dispose of a person’s assets after their death. With a will, the testator (the person who creates the will) can choose a personal representative to handle their estate and a guardian to care for any minor children. Wills are only effective once you pass away. At that time, the personal representative (called an executor in other states) must admit the will to probate to carry out the document’s terms. 

How to Make a Valid Will in Florida: What Are the Requirements?

Each state has its own rules for making valid wills. Let’s look at the legal requirements for wills in Florida. 

Testator Must Be Competent

A person who is at least 18 years old (or an emancipated minor) and of sound mind can create a will. A person who creates a will is called a testator, or if a female then a testatrix.

Must Be in Writing

Only written wills are valid. Florida does not recognize holographic (handwritten) or nuncupative (oral) wills. There are no particular words or phrases to include in your will to make it valid, as long as it meets all legal formalities.

Testator Must Sign

The testator must sign the will at the end of the document with any mark, initial, or symbol that is meant to serve as a signature. If the testator can’t sign, they can direct someone to sign for them in the testator’s presence.

Testator Must Sign in the Presence of Two Witnesses

The testator and two witnesses all need to be present at the same time and sign the will in front of each other. Any competent person can serve as a witness. However, it’s best not to choose someone who’s related to the testator or stands to inherit from the will. This may be grounds for someone to contest the will (i.e., argue it’s invalid).

Do You Need to Notarize Your Will in Florida?

No. You don’t need to notarize a will in Florida for it to be valid. However, to help prove a will’s validity and speed up the probate process, some testators include a self-proving affidavit with their will. This is a sworn statement signed by the testator and both witnesses. It is signed in front of a notary, attesting that the testator signed the will in the presence of the witnesses and notary.

Do You Need an Attorney to Write Your Will?

Florida doesn’t require an attorney to create your will for you. But since wills are legal documents, having a lawyer who knows the intricacies of Florida law is invaluable. A lawyer can offer options and ideas on ways to structure your will and estate plan as a whole so that it meets your needs. Filling out an online will template may be tempting, but that comes with big risks. Often these forms or will services have errors and don’t take into account recent developments in the law. It’s also difficult to personalize your will with a template that doesn’t know your family dynamics, your financial status, or your long-term goals. Also, a will is usually just one small piece of an overall plan that an experienced attorney will help you complete. Take the time and money to invest in a knowledgeable estate planning lawyer who can create a custom will for you and give you advice on how to ensure your property is distributed as you wish.

What Happens If My Will Is Invalid?

If a person creates an invalid will, the probate court acts as though the decedent died without a will. Thus, their entire estate is distributed according to the laws of intestate succession. This is basically the state’s default version of a will. The decedent’s family members inherit portions of the estate based on who survives the decedent. First, the spouse stands to inherit, then the children, then the parents, then the siblings, etc. This can be more complicated if there are children from a prior relationship or the decedent was separated from their spouse. For many people, this is not how they would want their property to pass after death, which is why it’s so important to create a valid will.  

What Are the Legal Requirements for Changing Your Will in Florida?

You can modify your will at any time before your death. To change your will, you can either revoke it and create a new one or amend your existing will with a codicil. In either scenario, the new will or codicil must meet the same legal formalities discussed above.  

Revocation

There are different ways to revoke a will. You can physically revoke it by burning, tearing, or destroying the document with the intent of revocation. Another way to revoke a will is by creating a new will or codicil that’s inconsistent with the original one or that states all prior wills are revoked.

Getting married or divorced after writing your will won’t revoke it. Any terms that apply to an ex-spouse are void. However, your new spouse gets certain legal rights to inherit a portion of the estate. 

Amendment

If you don’t want to create an entirely new will, you can make changes by writing a codicil. This is a legal document that amends any terms in your current will.

It’s important to revisit your will every year or whenever a significant life event occurs. When your life changes, your priorities for who should inherit your estate may change. For example, if you retire, get a divorce, have another child, or receive a substantial inheritance, you may need to update your will. 

We Can Help You Create a Valid Florida Will

Don’t leave it up to your loved ones to find out if your will is valid or not. When you work with the experienced estate planning attorneys at Beller & Bustamante, P.L., we create your will so that it meets all Florida will requirements. We have over 40 years of combined legal experience helping families with their estate planning needs. Contact us today by submitting an inquiry online or calling our office.