Jill: Well not who you wanted to, that’s for sure! I always like to tell people that you do want to do your estate plan because you know, I like to know who’s going to get my stuff when I’m no longer around and I like to make sure it’s the people who I want.
David: Well I like to tell people there’s no such thing as “no estate plan” if you
don’t do it the government is already reading your estate plan for you and has already decided for you who gets your assets.
Jill: Actually the Florida legislature has and it basically goes down and then up so it looks to your children…
David: Well it depends if you’re married or not…
Jill: Yes, I didn’t even get to the married part yet, obviously your spouse, and there are a lot of provisions there, then if you have children, if you don’t have children it goes out to your parents, then it goes out to your sisters and brothers, then it goes out to cousins. And guess what! If you think you don’t think you have any relatives, there are research firms out there and they will find them for you! They make sure that whoever is probating your estate, someone is getting that money.
David: So, if you don’t want it to go to some fourth cousin you don’t like…
Jill: Yeah, some third cousin twice removed!
David: And they are actually called laughing heirs, because they get called up and guess what? This person that you haven’t spoken to in thirty years died, and you’re getting all their money, it’s really a good idea to get your estate planning done so you can choose who you want it to go to, and not have the state choose for you.
Jill: I’m doing just great David, and how are you doing?
David: I am fantastic! So we get a lot of questions from our website, and I have a few we want to discuss. One of them is can I write my own will and have it notarized in Florida? What do you think about that?
Jill: Well, you know, I think it’s a great idea! I think you should draft your will, I think you should just get it notarized, forget about those two witnesses that you need, because then it just means more work for us; and David how much do you and I charge for a probate now?
David: A lot more than we would charge for a will. Jill’s obviously joking, because what happens is when you write your own will – a will in Florida needs two witnesses – and you get it notarized, the notary can maybe be one of the two witnesses, but it’s still not a valid will. So in some states, they have what’s known as a “Holographic Will”, where you can write it yourself and don’t need a witness. Good luck because it’s not valid in Florida!
Jill: In Florida you can write your own will in your own handwriting, as long as there are two witnesses, but here is the interesting part – You don’t need a notary! Isn’t that correct David?
David: That’s absolutely true. A will does not have to be notarized, it has to be signed in the presence of two witnesses who have to be in the presence of each other. So, the testator (the person signing the will), and the two witnesses, all have to see each other sign. It’s interesting because back in the day, in ancient history – pre-COVID – you had to be in the room together. It’s interesting that with COVID we took some interesting steps. You don’t necessarily have to be in the same room with each other, you just have to witness, and be able to see each other. So what we were doing was we would have a conference room, have a big wall-length window, and one would be in the room and see each other sign. There was some distancing because of COVID.
Jill: Now I know you’ve been doing in-person signings for a while now, and everyone is really in the same room with each other.
David: Right, and now we have mostly gone back to normal.
David: Right Jill, as you said, the personal representative is the term for the person that serves in Florida as what other states call an executor, but it’s synonymous with personal representative. The personal representative is the person you appoint or nominate after you die who is in charge of your estate. They gather, they marshall your assets, they identify any creditors (people you owe money to), they get appointed by the court. They are in charge of finding your assets, paying creditors, paying taxes, and distributing money to the beneficiaries. There are some rules about who can serve as personal representative in Florida. It has to be either a Florida resident, or a relative who may or may not live outside of Florida. So, anyone who lives in Florida (assuming they are not a felon, felons cannot serve…) plus your cousin in New York, or your brother in Iowa, they can serve too. But, if your best friend from back home growing up still lives in Philadelphia, but isn’t related to you they can’t serve.
Jill: How about an in-law? Like a brother-in-law or something like that?
David: They can serve, provided you are still married at the time of your death. But if you’re no longer married, that’s when it gets a little confusing.
Jill: Sounds like a plan! Thanks David!
David: Thank you!