UPDATE ON REMOTE NOTARIZATIONS OF WILLS AND TRUSTS
Longa Law is implementing new protocols to minimize face-to-face contact to complete traditional signing ceremonies for Wills and Trusts with witnesses and a notary in the safest manner possible. While we cannot offer you a signing ceremony that is completely online or remote today, we expect that to be a reality by this summer.
Florida’s remote or electronic notarization legislation went into effect on January 1, 2020, for transactional documents generally, so you can use remote notarizations for transactions right now. The effective date for estate planning documents was delayed until July 1, 2020. The main issue with estate planning documents that remote notarization cannot overcome is that the physical presence of witnesses is required.
Last week, the Florida Supreme Court issued an Administrative Order (No. AOSC20-16) that suspends any actual or implied requirements “that notaries, and other persons qualified to administer an oath in the State of Florida, must be in the presence of witnesses for purposes of administering an oath . . . so long as the notary or other qualified person can both see and hear the witness via audio-video communications equipment for purposes of readily identifying the witness.” In estate planning, we use notaries for self-proving purposes, but witnesses are required. At this time, this order appears to only apply to remote testimony, depositions, legal testimony, and family law forms. It does not excuse the requirement that witnesses be physically present for wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and other estate planning documents that need witnesses.
Given current social distancing measures we have all been asked to follow to reduce the transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19, the state may move up remote notarizations and remove requirements for the physical appearance of witnesses. At Longa Law, we already use technology to conduct video conferencing and video mediations for our clients, and we are looking for ways to extend this methodology to formal estate plan signings as soon as we can. Aside from public safety, our highest concern is creating documents that are legally binding and enforceable.