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Handwritten Foreign Will With One Witness Not Valid In Florida

Foreign wills (wills not executed in Florida) are generally admissible to probate in Florida if the will is valid under the laws of the state or country where the will was executed.  In Zaidman v. Zaidman, the Florida Third District Court of Appeals determined that a handwritten foreign will with only one witness was not valid because it was not executed with the formalities required by Florida law.

The Facts of Zaidman v. Zaidman

Natchaya Zaidman was the surviving spouse of decedent.  Natchaya offered Decedent’s 2012 Will, validly executed and authenticated in Florida, for probate.

Decedent’s children offered a 2015 handwritten will for probate.  The 2015 Will was done in Belgium and purported to revoke all previous wills.  The 2015 will was handwritten by the testator in the presence of (at best) one witness.

The Children contended that the 2015 Will revoked the 2012 Will.  Probate litigation ensued, and the Florida probate court struck the Children’s petition to probate the 2015 Will.  The Children appealed.

When Is A Foreign Will Valid In Florida?

A foreign will is generally valid in Florida if it is valid under the laws of the state or country where it was executed.  Section 732.502(2) addresses validity of foreign wills and states:

Any will, other than a holographic or nuncupative will, executed by a nonresident of Florida, either before or after this law takes effect, is valid as a will in this state if valid under the laws of the state or country where the will was executed. A will in the testator’s handwriting that has been executed in accordance with subsection (1) shall not be considered a holographic will.

Therefore, a will in the testator’s handwriting must comply with 732.502(1) to be valid in Florida.

Section 732.502(1) sets forth the requirements for a valid Florida will and requires that every will must be in writing and must be signed at the end by the testator and in the presence of two witnesses who witness the execution in the presence of each other.

A Handwritten Foreign Will Signed By One Witness Is Not Valid Under Florida Law

The handwritten will in this case could have been valid in Florida if it complied with the testamentary formalities required by Florida law.  However, since, at best, the will was executed in the presence of one witness, it did not comply with the statutory formalities of section 732.501(1), Fla. Stat., and was not valid under Florida law.

The Revocation Of A Prior Will By Writing Must Comply With Testamentary Formalities

For a valid revocation of a will by writing, section 732.505, Fla. Stat., states that a will is revoked by writing:

(1) By a subsequent inconsistent will or codicil, or any part of either, even though the subsequent inconsistent will or codicil does not expressly revoke all previous wills or codicils, but the revocation extends only so far as the inconsistency.

(2) By a subsequent will, codicil, or other writing.

In determining that the 2012 Will was not revoked by the 2015 Will, the Court of Appeals stated:

The revocation clause within the 2015 will fails under section 732.205 for the same reason the entire 2015 Will fails – “the formalities necessary for execution for an instrument of revocation are the same as those applicable to the Florida last will and testament sought to be revoked.”  Here, the statutory formalities were not followed with respect to the purported revocation.

In this case, the failure to strictly follow the statutory requirements for valid will creation and revocation resulted in the court striking the petition to probate the 2015 Will.  The court reminded practitioners that:

The primary goal of the law of wills, and the polestar guiding the rules of will construction, is to effectuate the manifest intent of the testator. Notwithstanding this goal, strict compliance with statutory requirements is a prerequisite for the valid creation or revocation of a will.

 

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