Foreign Wills: Are they valid in Florida?

Foreign Wills: Will a Florida Court recognize them?

The world is becoming a more global community and with that means the United States has seen an increase in the amount of foreign-born individuals living, visiting, and investing in the U.S. economy. For instance, 12 percent of residential home purchases in Florida were made by foreign buyers.  The question soon becomes how do foreign citizens pass their assets to loved ones in the U.S. and in other counties.  Is a will from another country valid in America?

Florida law allows a foreign will to be admitted to probate if the will is valid under the laws of the country where the will was executed.  This is great news for foreign Florida citizens because it means usually a will be valid even if it doesn’t comply with strict will formalities set by the state.  However, the Florida Probate Code has made two exceptions for a type of will that is never valid under Florida law.  These exceptions are when the will is a holographic will or a nuncupative will.

These types of will are not very common here in America.  Most estate planners in Florida and other states go to great lengths to ensure a will is valid when the testator dies.  However, the probate laws in foreign countries have their own distinct rules which can often conflict with American law.  So what exactly are holographic or nuncupative wills?

A holographic will is a handwritten will by the testator and is never valid under Florida law even if a holographic will is valid in the country it was written.  A nuncupative will is an oral will, where the testator tells his last wishes to someone and it’s never written down.  These wills can’t be admitted to a probate court in Florida.

Another type of will is a notarial will, which is when a testator declares their last wishes to a notary who transcribes what is said then writes the will down later.  If the foreign country’s law requires a will to remain in the custody of the notary, the will can be admitted to a Florida probate court.  So how do these laws work in real life?

Recently, Elena Isleno, a citizen of Argentina, died in Florida at the age of 79.  She owned property in the U.S. and Argentina at the time of the death.  She had two wills.  The first will was executed in New York, directing the disposition of her real and personal property located in the U.S. to beneficiaries in the U.S. and Argentina.  A few months later, Ms. Isleno executed a second will in Argentina.  This will directed most of her assets to beneficiaries living in Argentina.  This will was given orally to a notary who typed up the will.  However, this will was not signed and as a result the court held the nuncupative will could not be admitted to probate in Florida.

The Florida Statutes require that a for a will to be admissible in Florida, it must comply with the statute of wills even if it is recognized in another jurisdiction.

For more information on the validity of foreign wills in the United States, contact the Law Office of David Goldman, PLLC today.

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