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Lawmakers Say It’s Time To Update Notaries, Wills

Laptops at a coffee shop

Florida Senators are considering legislation some say could give the state’s residents more ability to create wills and work with notaries. But opponents of the measure argue it could also lead to more fraud.

Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) says people shouldn’t have to rush around searching for a notary. He says technology is changing and Florida law should too.

“We think this puts Florida really at the vanguard of technology but also ensures that everyone has access to this type of technology,” Brandes says.

Brandes is behind a bill that would let people get their documents notarized electronically.

“The bill provides a framework for online notarization and creates definitions, procedures, standards, requirements and exemptions for those online notarizations. It also makes chances to current law recognizing online notarizations as acceptable,” Brandes says.

Under the bill, a notary public would need to use video conferencing technology that allows them to see and hear a person before providing an online notarization. But the move has some like Sen. Kevin Rader (D-Boca Raton) concerned about the possibility of fraud.

“We’re allowing online notaries. Can you tell me why we should do that in the state of Florida, being that the whole purpose is to ensure that the person is who they say they are. And a lot of who do notaries, know the person who is doing the notary. But in this case, assure me that fraudulent activity will be at an absolute, absolute zero percent,” Rader says.

Brandes says he thinks his bill will reduce the possibility of fraud.

“We think utilizing technology we can determine, actually in a better way, in a more secure way their physical presence. We can look at their identification,” Brandes says.

Brandes says the bill also adds safeguards that aren’t in place now, such as requiring notaries to keep a log of any services they provide electronically. But during a Senate floor hearing the main pushback the bill received came on a strike all amendment Brandes filed.

“The amendment also adds language that clarifies how an electronic will is executed. E-wills have been included in the senate bill all along. This amendment provides additional safe guards for wills and provides unique issues as it relates to wills,” Brandes says

But others says the change is last minute. And they’ve got concerns, especially since Governor Rick Scott vetoed a similar bill last year. Sen. Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange) says the measure makes significant changes to probate law.

“Even though this bill passed last year there were substantial problems with this bill. There were constitutional problems, venue problems, substantive problems, problems with regard to who is in the room, how do we know who is in the room, who is exercising undue influence,” Hukill says.

But Brandes says many of those issues have been cleared up since last year and he’s done what he can to get all the stakeholders on board. The amendment passed. The bill is waiting for a vote from the full Senate.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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