Nowadays, technology permits us to sign documents without even touching the paperwork electronically. In most situations, people use copies of several documents for the same effect as the original pieces.
However, when submitting a will to the probate court, the process requires the original document signed by the testator and the two witnesses. In this sense, in what circumstance is a copy of a will valid in Florida?
In this article, you will find out the situations in which it is possible to utilize a copy of a will during probate in Florida.
Validating a Will in Florida – In What Situations Is It Possible to Use a Copy of a Will?
A copy of a will may be admitted to probate only under specific circumstances.
As provided by state law (Florida Statutes §733.207), the process to establish and probate a will that was either lost or destroyed requires “any interested person may establish the full and precise terms of a lost or destroyed will and offer the will for probate.”
Plus, “the specific content of the will must be proved by the testimony of two disinterested witnesses, or, if a correct copy is provided, it shall be proved by one disinterested witness.”
In addition, there are specific procedures required by Florida Probate Rules, which are the rules that govern the procedures in all probate and guardianship cases at the state level.
Establishing the Copy of a Will in Florida
According to Florida Probate Rule 5.510, there are five required elements to establish and probate a lost or destroyed will – proceeding, petition, testimony, notice, and order.
First, the proceeding to establish and probate a will that was either lost or destroyed must occur in one proceeding. The next element is the petition to admit a copy of the will, which has the exact requirements as a petition for an original will.
However, the petition to admit a copy of the will has an additional requirement. It is necessary to allege that the decedent (testator) executed a written will. Still, the original was either lost or destroyed without intent to revoke the document.
Plus, the petition must have a statement of the content of the original will or an attached copy of the original document.
Also, petitioners may allege that the testator did not have access or control of the original will during his/her life to avoid the presumption that the decedent destroyed the will with the intent to revoke the document.
Then, the process requires the testimony of each witness in the proceeding to be written and filed. Also, the testimony may be as evidence in any content of the will if the witness has died or moved from the state.
In this context, if the petitioner has a correct copy, only the testimony from one of the witnesses will be required. The term “correct copy” refers to an identical copy of the original will signed by the testator and two witnesses.
Also, a correct copy can be a copy printed from an electronic document database or a hard copy found in a file. Finally, it is crucial noting that this procedure aims to prove the content of the will, not the execution.
Next, as provided by Florida Probate Rule 5.510, “no lost or destroyed will be admitted to probate unless formal notice has been given to those who, but for the will, would be entitled to the property thereby.”
Hence, all individuals who would be beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate must be served with notice of the petition to probate the copy of the will. It does not include either intestate beneficiaries or beneficiaries under a prior will.
Lastly, the order admitting the copy of the will must state the full terms in the original document or attach and incorporate the correct copy to the process.
Working with a Probate Attorney is Fundamental
Undoubtedly, establishing and probating the copy of a will that was either lost or destroyed is a time-consuming and complex task. Accordingly, the guidance of an expert probate attorney in Florida is crucial to ensure a successful outcome in court.
Besides handling all the necessary paperwork, a probate attorney will guide you throughout the process and avoid mistakes that would cost you a lot of time and money.