A will is one of the most important tools you can use to plan for your family’s future. This document lets you decide who will receive your money and property and who will take care of your children. If you die without a will, your wishes most likely will not be followed. Here’s what you need to know to create a valid will in Florida.
Do I Really Need a Will in Florida?
If you want to control which loved ones will inherit money or property after you die, you should have a will. If you have minor children, you can also use a will to name the people who will care for your children if the worst should happen.
If you do not have a will, a court will use Florida’s intestacy laws to distribute your assets. The intestacy laws provide a list of relatives who can inherit from you. Your spouse and children are first on the list. If you are not married and have no children, the court will move further down the list until it finds a relative to inherit from you. If the court cannot find a living relative, your assets will go to the state of Florida.
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How To Get a Will in Florida
If you want a valid will, you must ensure that it complies with Florida law. You can hire a Florida estate planning attorney or use a will form from a reputable source. When making a will, follow these steps: See full process
List all your property, money, and assets
You should know what you own before you give it away. Make a list of your assets, including:
- Bank accounts
- Real estate
- Personal property
- Retirement accounts
- Life insurance
- Other financial accounts
Some items, such as life insurance, will not go through probate unless they have a defect, but it is good to know your total assets.
When you review your list, decide what items will pass through your will. Remember that assets devised by your will must go through probate. You might want to consider using a trust for most of your assets. Trusts generally avoid probate, and they give you more control over how your assets are managed after your death.
In Florida, you create a written list that gives personal property to devisees. You can update the list occasionally without revising your will. If you want to use a list to devise personal property, your will must refer to a written list of personal property.
You can create the list before or after your will is executed. The list must clearly describe the items and who will receive them, and you must sign it. It cannot include money or real estate, but it is a good way to give family heirlooms and other sentimental items to loved ones.
Decide who will receive your money and property
You can give your money or property to friends, family, schools, or charities. When giving assets to schools or charities, contact their planned giving department to determine what kind of gifts they will accept and how you should refer to them in your will. When you create your will or list of tangible personal property, make sure you clearly state which devisee will receive specific property.
Choose a personal representative
It is important to choose someone you trust to be your personal representative. Because they will be managing your assets, they should be responsible with money. Let your personal representative know that you are naming them and ask if they are willing to serve. You also should name one or two successor personal representatives who can act if your first choice is unable to serve.
Your personal representative will have many responsibilities, including:
- Identifying your probate assets
- Notifying your devisees and heirs about the probate process
- Notifying creditors
- Paying bills and taxes for your estate
- Distributing your assets to devisees per your will
- Hiring professionals, such as attorneys and accountants, to assist with probate if needed
- Closing your estate when probate is complete
Choose people to care for your minor children and their property
If you have minor children, your will should name their guardian and one or two successor guardians in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve. In Florida, there are two types of guardians: the guardian of the person and the guardian of property.
The guardian of the person will have legal custody of your child and be in charge of raising them. The guardian of the person should be physically able to care for your child and willing to raise them.
When planning for your children’s financial future, you should consider a revocable living trust instead of leaving them money in your will. You can use a trust to name a trustee to manage your child’s assets until your child is an adult. A trust also gives you more control over how and when money is distributed to your child. Whether a guardian or a trustee manages your child’s money, you should choose someone responsible and trustworthy.
Execute your will form
You must comply with Florida’s requirements for executing a will if you want your will to be valid. You must sign your will at the end of the document or direct another person in your presence to sign your name for you if you are physically unable to sign.
Two adult witnesses must be present when you sign your will, or you must tell them your signature is yours or that it was signed by someone else at your direction. The two witnesses must sign your will in your presence and each other’s presence.
Any adult can be a witness. Avoid using a beneficiary as a witness. If a witness inherits from you, other heirs or devisees might claim the witness had undue influence over you.
A notary public is not required, but you should have one present if you want to create a self-proving will. A self-proving will allows a probate court to accept your will without requiring your witnesses to appear in court to authenticate it.
To create a self-proving will, you must acknowledge your will before the notary public, and your witnesses must sign self-proving affidavits that are notarized by the notary public. An example of a self-proving affidavit is available in the Florida Statutes.
Store your will in a safe place
You only can make one original will. If your will is lost, a court might accept a copy, but there is no guarantee it will. You should keep your original will in a safe place. Some law firms store originals for clients. You also can keep it in a safe place in your home.
Tell your personal representative and family members you trust where your will is, so they can access it after you die. Avoid storing it in a safe deposit box. Banks have strict rules about who can access a safe deposit box, which could lead to delays and the need for a court to order the bank to open the safe deposit box.
Review your will from time to time
You should review your will every three to five years to see if it still contains your wishes and meets your loved ones’ needs. It is also a good idea to review when you have an important life event, such as getting married or divorced or having a child. You can ask a Florida estate planning attorney to review your will when you complete it or if your family or financial situations have changed.
You May Want To Speak With a Lawyer if You:
- Have a past divorce, blended family, or other complex family situation
- Have a high-value estate
- Own a business
- Want to create a special needs trust
- Want legal review of your completed will
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Florida Will FAQ/People Often Ask
A will is also called a last will and testament or a last will. It is an estate planning document that you can use to distribute your money and property after you die. If you have minor children, your will should name a person to care for your children. As the person who makes a will, you will be called the testator. The people who receive money or property through your will are called devisees or beneficiaries.
You do not need a lawyer to make a will in Florida, but a lawyer can help ensure your will accomplishes your goals and complies with Florida law. If you do not own many assets and are not worried about family dynamics, you can create a will using one of the easy-to-complete will forms we offer.
FindLaw is not a law firm, and the forms are not a substitute for the advice or services of an attorney. If your family life is complicated or you own significant assets, you can ask a Florida estate planning attorney to review your form or draft a will for you.
The cost of a will varies in Florida, but you likely will pay a few hundred dollars for a will if you hire an attorney. Attorneys often offer estate planning packages that include a will, a trust, and other documents. These packages are significantly more expensive than just a will, but they tend to be cheaper than paying for each document separately.
Free will forms are available online, but they are not guaranteed to comply with Florida law. You should avoid using a free form unless it is from a reputable source, such as a Florida government or court website.
If you use a DIY form, consider purchasing a Florida-specific one you can customize to your needs.
In Florida, you can change your will by creating a codicil, an amendment to a will. A codicil must be executed in the same manner as a will to be valid. You only should use a codicil if you are making a minor change to a will.
You can revoke a will in Florida by burning, tearing, canceling, defacing, obliterating, or destroying it with the intent to revoke it. However, although you can revoke a will through one of these acts, it is better to revoke your will in writing.
You can create a document that revokes a will, but it must be executed in the same manner as a will. A subsequent will that is inconsistent with a previous one will cancel out the inconsistent sections. If you create a new will, it should state that it revokes all previous wills and codicils to avoid any confusion.
A testator can create a valid will without witnesses or a notary in many states if the entire will or the material portions of the will are in the testator’s handwriting. This type of will is called a holographic will. Florida does not recognize holographic wills. All Florida wills must be executed with two witnesses (and a notary if you want a self-proving will).
In 2020, Florida became one of the first states to allow people to make electronic wills. Electronic wills must be executed in the same manner as traditional wills, but the testator and witnesses can sign with electronic signatures. Instead of being in your physical presence, your witnesses can be electronically present via video call. A notary public must supervise the signing and follow Florida laws for conducting an online notarization session.
You also can create a self-proving will electronically if the electronic will designates a qualified custodian who keeps the will in their custody until it is probated. Section 732.524 of the Florida Statutes lists the requirements for being a qualified custodian.
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