Probate cannot go totally paperless

  • Posted by Bruce McDonald
  • May 28, 2014
  • (0) Comments

There is a pair of documents that must still be filed on paper

It's great that probate courts in Florida are going "paperless," which means accepting scanned copies of signed papers by electronic filing. Saves paper, saves postage, saves time. And so far common sense has prevailed, and the courts are still requiring that the original Last Will (which must be on paper) be filed with the Court.

But a few clerks are now also accepting scanned copies of the "certified death certificate" instead of insisting that the certified copy be mailed to them for filing. This is interesting, because for decades Florida has taken steps to make sure that a certified death certificate be printed on special paper that makes it hard to tamper with. In fact, many photocopiers cannot make a copy of a certified death certificate without having the word VOID show up in large letters all over. (However, many new copiers can make a copy without the VOID showing up.)

What difference does it make? Why should a court insist on seeing the certified death certificate instead of a scanned copy? Well, of course there is always the possibility that someone could easily defraud a court by creating a fake death certificate, on regular paper. With that, one could wreak havoc on the assets of persons who may be travelling abroad, or living in an Alzheimer's facility, and very much alive.

On a smaller scale, how easy would it be to check a different marital status box on a death certificate copy? Suddenly, a common law marriage (not legal in Florida) can be made to look like a legal marriage, with a big impact on the estate. Or a spouse who is "estranged" but still legally married, is changed to "divorced" by the children handling the estate.

Let's keep two written documents required to be filed – the original Last Will and a certified death certificate.