We live in an increasingly mobile culture. Florida residents, especially, often have homes and lives in other states or countries, as well as here in the state. But what happens when snowbirds or others with property in multiple states die? Admitting a foreign will in Florida is often an important step to resolving a cross-country, or even international, estate administration challenge.
What is a Foreign Will Under Florida Statutes?
It may surprise you to learn that a Will signed in Georgia is considered a “foreign Will” under Florida statutes. The term “foreign Will” applies to any Will (or similar estate planning document) executed in another state or country. You may have a foreign Will if:
- You prepared your estate plan before moving to Florida
- You own property in more than one state or country
- You signed your Will while living out-of-state
When a person with a foreign Will dies, the validation of that foreign Will can become an important first step in the administration of their estate. Validation of a Will created by an experienced Florida estate planning attorney is usually relatively easy. But if the state where you lived at the time has different rules, your personal representative may have to prove your Will was valid before your Florida probate case even gets started.
Validation of a Foreign Will in Florida Probate Court
Florida law sets out specific tests that must be satisfied before the probate court will consider a Will valid and enforceable:
- It must be signed at the end (or subscribed by another person in the testator’s presence and at their direction)
- There must be two attesting witnesses’ signatures, who must each sign in the presence of the testator and each other
But other states and foreign countries have different probate requirements around the validity of the Will. They may require the Will to be dated, or allow the witnesses to sign after the fact (based on a testator’s approval of the document). They may allow for “holographic” (handwritten) or “nuncupative” (spoken) Wills. Florida law says:
“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.”
In other words, if the Will met the criteria for a valid Will where it was signed, it will be considered a valid Will in Florida. Oral Wills are not accepted in Florida, but a handwritten Will can pass validation if it meets the requirements of a Will under the Florida statute.
Ancillary Estates and Foreign Wills
If a person dies owning property in multiple states or jurisdictions, their estate administration may be time-consuming and confusing. It may even result in filing multiple probate cases in each state where the person owned real property (personal property, including RVs and even some mobile homes, don’t trigger the same probate requirements). Even if you have a foreign Will signed by a non-resident who died in another state, if there is real property located in Florida, you may need to involve the Florida probate court.
However, if that person was not a resident of Florida and they died in another state – such as a “snowbird” dying in the state where they spend their summers – you may not need to go through an entire formal probate process in Florida. Ancillary probate administration serves as a kind of tie-on probate process that supplements an estate administration occurring in another state. It gives the estate’s personal representative, or an in-state representative working with them, authority to address the deceased’s Florida property by:
- Taking possession of the property
- Paying off property taxes, utilities, mortgage payments, and other debts
- Transferring real property to heirs or beneficiaries
- Selling the property and dividing the assets between the designated beneficiaries or statutory heirs
In-State Representation for Foreign Wills
When working with a foreign Will, either in executing a primary probate case in Florida, or when filing an ancillary probate petition, you want to have someone local to help move your case along. It isn’t always easy for out-of-state relatives to be named personal representatives of Florida probate estates. Hiring an experienced local Florida estate administration attorney can take some of the burden off your shoulders and be certain everything is done right under Florida law. At Harrison Estate Law, P.A., our experienced estate and probate team can help you select the right process to validate your foreign Will and complete the Florida ancillary probate process. We will help you be sure your loved one’s Florida-related affairs are handled, no matter where you live. Contact us here or call 352-559-9828 to get help today.