How Many Copies of a Will Should Be Signed?
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
June 7, 2021
You may have noticed that often when completing legally binding documents you are required to hand-sign several copies. For instance, purchasing or selling real estate and other large transactions.
Why? Because in those situations, each party needs to retain its own set of documents with original signatures. So it makes sense that something as important as your estate would warrant the same handling, right?
Maybe… but maybe not.
Signing multiple copies of your will is perfectly legal. However, doing so might actually be setting up unanticipated obstacles for you and your surviving beneficiaries.
Below, we share just a few of the complications that can arise when more than a single signed copy of your will exists.
What Is a Will, and Why Is It So Important to Have One?
A “Last Will and Testament” or “will” is a legal document expressing your postmortem wishes. It serves a number of functions. However, it’s most commonly known to govern the transfer of your property to designated beneficiaries after you pass.
Arguably the most important reason to have a will in Florida is that it lets you choose your beneficiaries. Not having a will means the state chooses them for you.
The same is true for guardians of your minor children.
Of course, if the will can’t be validated, the state will have to step in.
Ensuring the Validity of Your Will
In Florida, you can make any changes or additions to your will as long as you are of sound mind and they are executed following the letter of the law. One of the easiest ways to do this is by creating an addendum known as a codicil.
According to Florida probate code, “a codicil shall be executed with the same formalities as a will.” This means it must include the testator’s (that’s you!) and two witnesses’ signatures.
This is where signing multiple copies of a will can cause problems.
Rounding Up All Copies Can Make Changes Difficult
Suppose a major life event occurs and you need to update your will. Now imagine you’ve made five copies of your will and handed them out to the family members included in it.
Can you see the problem? You’re going to have to round up all five copies up so you can make valid changes to all of them!
What if your relatives have moved away? What kind of delays could you potentially face?
Self-Proofing Multiple Copies Means Extra Steps (and Extra Fees)
Further, say you decide to take the extra measure of self-proofing. Imagine the additional steps (and fees) for also having each individual copy notarized!
The maximum a Florida notary can charge per notarial act is $10. However, they are legally allowed to charge for additional services like travel costs and after-hours fees.
Suddenly, instead of paying $10 and finishing the task in a single afternoon, you’re out $50-plus and several days if you can’t get all five copies into your notary’s hands at once.
Additionally, inconsistencies in codicils may automatically revoke a will. This will lead to a whole host of issues associated with its execution after you’ve passed on.
Multiple Copies of a Single Will Can Leave an Estate Open to Dispute
The primary concern with multiple signed copies of your will? Your assets may not be distributed according to your true final wishes.
There is a certain period of time during which wills may be presented to the courts. If there are discrepancies among the wills presented — from honest mistakes to outright fraud; it makes no difference — your estate will become tied up in disputes.
Multiple copies of your will could inadvertently wind up costing your bereaved family members more time, money, and heartache than you might imagine.
Ultimately, whether you sign multiple copies of your will is completely up to you. Be aware, however, there are consequences — often in the form of complications — when you do.
For more information regarding estate-specific issues, or if you need help with any other estate planning tools, reach out to Haimo Law.
Originally published 10/17/19. Updated 6/7/21.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose®
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