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Is A Will With Only A Partial Signature Valid In Florida?

A will with only a partial signature is considered a will without a signature, and renders a will invalid in Florida.  A Florida will must strictly comply with the requirements for a valid will in order to be admitted to probate, which means that the testator must sign the will, with a complete signature.

The February 2019 case of Bitetzakis v. Bitetzakis is a stark reminder of the importance of strict compliance with testamentary formalities under Florida probate law.

The Partially Signed Will Is Admitted To Probate

Decedent, George Bitetzakis, passed away in January 2017.  Decedent’s grandson petitioned for the administration of decedent’s September 2013 will.  Decedent’s daughter, Alice, objected to the will and alleged that the will had not been executed in compliance with the statutory formalities set forth in § 732.502, Florida Statutes.  Specifically, Alice alleged that the decedent did not sign the will.

The Florida probate court held an evidentiary hearing.  The evidence presented was:

  • Decedent, his wife, and two witnesses gathered in the kitchen.
  • Witness 1 signed the will at the decedent’s request.
  • Witness 2 then signed the will.
  • After Witness 2 signed, the decedent began to sign the will but stopped at his wife’s behest.
  • Decedent’s wife directed decedent to stop because she believed that he needed to sign before a notary.
  • Decedent typically signs his first and last name as his signature.
  • The next day, decedent and his wife went to a notary, but did not bring the will.  Instead, they brought a self-proof affidavit.
  • The self-proof affidavit bears the decedent’s signature and the notary’s stamp but avers that the decedent served as a witness to himself executing his own will.

The Florida probate court found that the document was a valid will, signed in compliance with section 732.502.  The Florida probate court further found:

Although the testator, Gregory Bitetzakis, only signed a portion of his name, the Court finds that he intended this Will to be his last will and testament and he stopped his signature on the mistaken belief that he needed a notary present.

The fact that the testator, Gregory   intended this Will to be his last will and testament is supported by his going the following day to a notary and signing the document entitled “Affidavit of Subscribing Witnesses” in front of the notary.

 

The Florida appellate court reversed the decision of the probate court, holding that the will was an unsigned will and thus not valid under Florida law.

What Are The Requirements For A Valid Will In Florida?

The requirements for a valid Florida will are set forth in section 732.502 of the Florida Probate Code, which states in pertinent part:

Every will must be in writing and executed as follows:

(1)(a) Testator’s signature.

1. The testator must sign the will at the end; or

2. The testator’s name must be subscribed at the end of the will by some other person in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s direction.

(b) Witnesses.—The testator’s:

1. Signing, or

2. Acknowledgment:

a. That he or she has previously signed the will, or

b. That another person has subscribed the testator’s name to it,

must be in the presence of at least two attesting witnesses.

Here, the testator decedent did not sign his name at the end of the will, he stopped his signature after only writing his first name.  There was also no evidence that the decedent directed another to subscribe his name in his stead.  The Florida appellate court stated:

Under these very unique circumstances, it is clear that the decedent recorded something less than his full customary signature and therefore did not sign the will within the meaning of section 732.502. See Signature, Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014) (defining a signature as a “person’s name or mark written by that person . . . esp., one’s handwritten name as one ordinarily writes it” and “the act of signing something; the handwriting of one’s name in one’s usual fashion”).

Testamentary Intent Can Only Be Effectuated If A Will Is Validly Executed

The Florida probate court erroneously focused on the decedent’s intent to determine that the will was valid.  However, a testator’s intent can only be effectuated if the will has been validly executed in strict compliance with Florida’s requirements for will execution.    In order to comply with the statute for creation of a valid Florida will, the testator must “sign the will at the end” or else the testator’s name “must be subscribed at the end of the will by some other person in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s direction.”

Here, the outcome could have been different if Decedent had simply finished signing his name.  By stopping halfway through, he did not complete his signature, and therefore did not sign the will.  It is remarkable that if the testator had directed someone else to sign, or even place an X on the will under testator’s direction, the will would have complied with the requirements for a valid Florida will.

Complete Guide to Florida Probate

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