January 1 marked the beginning of a new digital era in Florida, with the implementation of a law authorizing electronic wills and remote notarization of legal documents.
The House voted 87-28 to approve HB 409 by Rep. Daniel Perez, R-Miami, in April. The Senate signed off unanimously in May. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill June 7.
For the first time, Floridians can execute wills online, and notaries can affix their seals and signatures to legal documents signed out of their presence, if they witness the signature via live, two-way video links. Third-party witnesses needed for wills and other documents may also appear remotely.
“This is a bill that essentially brings the law of signing documents in Florida into the year 2019,” Perez said at an initial committee stop. “It allows the signing of documents to be conducted entirely electronically online via remote presence through video — through the stringent, strict standards that still exist today when it comes to notaries.”
The legislation divided some segments of the legal community.
The Florida Bar’s Elder Law Section touted the legislation as a more convenient and affordable way to access legal services.
“We see this as progress,” said the section’s Shannon Miller, noting that the legislation contained protections for vulnerable elders.
But the Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section opposed the legislation, warning that it could invite fraud. Perez dropped a provision that would have allowed online designation of “super powers-of-attorney” at the section’s urging.
Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, tried unsuccessfully to exempt online wills and the online granting of powers of attorney when the bill was being debated on the House floor.
Diamond warned that adult children could more easily sell an aging parent’s real estate without the parent’s permission.
“I know we’re in the electronic age, but when it comes to estate planning, I think we should stay where we are,” he said.
The Legislature passed the “Florida Electronic Wills Act” in 2017, but former Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the measure.
Scott’s veto message said the legislation failed to strike the proper balance between security and increased access to legal services.