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Remote notary, electronic wills legislation starts Senate journey

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Legislation to allow remote electronic notarization of documents, including the signing of wills, is now progressing in the Florida Senate as well as the House.

Sen. Jeff BrandesThe Senate Judiciary Committee April 1 passed by a 6-0 vote SB 548 sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. It allows for notarizations and will signing to be completed with the notary at a remote location and parties connected and recorded by electronic audio and visual links.

“We do believe it does address our concerns about vulnerable adults and individual who are susceptible to coercion and undue influence,” said Travis Finchum, representing the Bar’s Elder Law Section. “The stakeholders have listened to the Elder Law Section, taken our recommendations, and incorporated them into this version of the bill. So we are here to support the bill.”

Brandes noted while the bill does allow remote notarization, that may not be used for “super” powers of attorney that give the recipients extra authority over those granting the power of attorney.

“These are powers of attorneys with expanded rights and so we prohibit the remote witnessing of these super power of attorney documents,” Brandes said, responding to a question from Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, said the bill might offer more protections because there would be an electronic and visual records of notarized signatures, as well as a colloquy for those signing wills.

“I see the opportunity not only to capture witness signatures but people actually have pictures of who’s there and photographs of their responses and the interrogatories to see if they’re aware of what they’re doing are captured,” Baxley said.. “Now you see everyone involved in verification and that this is a legitimate transaction and carrying out the will of the parties.”

The bill sets out standards for how the electronic notary process must be carried, how the records must be kept, and regulations for entities that store the electronic documents, including wills.

Lobbyists representing Realtors, credit unions, AARP, title companies, the Florida Bankers Association, and others supported the bill. It next goes to the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee and then the Rules Committee.

The House version of the bill, HB 548 has passed its first two committees and is pending in the Judiciary Committee.