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Is a Will Executed in a Foreign Country Valid in Florida?


Florida is home to immigrants from around the world. However, many people settle in Florida without taking the time to learn about local laws pertaining to subjects such as estate planning. So when they pass away in Florida, these individuals may not have left a will executed under Florida law–although they may have a similar document prepared under the rules of their country of origin.

Haitian Will Upheld by Florida Court Despite Sibling’s Challenge

If you, or someone in your family, is in this situation, you might be wondering: Is a foreign will even valid in Florida? The short answer is “yes.” Florida law recognizes wills executed in other states or countries. But the will must be considered “valid under the laws of the state or country where the will was executed.” This is important, because other countries may not require the same legal formalities as Florida.

In this a state, a will is normally typewritten, signed by the person making the will (the testator) at the end, and counter-signed by at least two witnesses. The witnesses must see the testator sign the will, but they do not necessarily have to read the will itself or understand its contents. In some cases, such as when the testator is physically unable to sign the will, he or she may direct another person to sign on their behalf in the presence of the witnesses. (This must be done in the testator’s presence.)

But once again, a foreign will that does not observe these rules may still be admitted by a Florida probate court if the document is valid in the testator’s country of origin. A recent decision by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, Rizk v. Rizk, offers a useful illustration. This case involves a dispute involves two siblings contesting the estate of a third sibling. The testator was a native of Haiti. Shortly before his death in 2013, the testator orally dictated a will to a Haitian notary, who put the testator’s wishes in writing. The testator, the notary, and four witnesses then signed the document, which was registered with, and kept by, the Haitian government.

After the testator died, one sibling contested the validity of the Haitian will. She alleged her brother was not even in Haiti the day he purportedly signed the will, and that three of the four witnesses were also not present. The sibling asked a Florida probate court to instead admit an earlier will signed by her brother in 1986, which was purportedly revoked by the Haitian will.

The second sibling defended the Haitian will. He presented the Florida court with an affidavit signed by the notary who prepared the will attesting to its validity under Haitian law. A Haitian attorney also certified that “no court action has been filed in Haiti to contest the 2013 will’s validity.” And in fact, the sibling who contested the Haitian is a beneficiary of that will and was “receiving the benefits” accordingly. Given all this, both the probate court and the Third District were satisfied the Haitian will was valid and enforceable in Florida.

Speak with a Southwest Florida Estate Planning & Probate Lawyer Today

If you live or own property in Florida, regardless of your country of origin, it is still a good idea to execute a will under this state’s laws, so as to avoid any potential confusion about your intentions after your death. If you need advice or assistance from a qualified Fort Myers estate planning attorney, contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 today.


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