So many things that we do today take place online that this might seem like a good idea. However, many disagree saying that it could lead to elder abuse and fraud.
A bill under consideration in the Florida legislature, HB 409, would make it possible for legal documents to be notarized online. While it would certainly make some matters easier and more convenient, the potential for fraud, especially among the elderly, is a very serious concern.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports in the story “Florida may allow legal papers to be notarized online” that the legislation was proposed by Representative Daniel Perez, R-Miami. The bill moved Tuesday through the House transportation and tourism appropriations subcommittee and will be considered next in the Judiciary Committee—the last step before a House vote. However, a Senate version hasn't made as much progress.
Representative Perez remarked that he’d recently traveled to Colombia and realized as he boarded his flight, that he’d failed to assign power of attorney to his in-laws. The requirement that he appear in person before a Florida-commissioned notary made it impossible to fix his oversight, he said.
The notary bill has made it past attempts by two Democrats that would’ve limited its scope. Representative Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens, compared the risks of fraud under the system to college students who buy fake IDs to illegally drink alcohol. She proposed requiring notary witnesses to be in the same place physically as whoever is signing legal documents.
"When we have no one tangibly looking at this information, not having it in their hands for close inspection to verify its validity, we're in trouble," Watson said.
Representative Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, said allowing wills and powers of attorney to be created online was dangerous for Florida's elderly. He said lawmakers need to balance between better business and protecting older residents.
"I have a concern about someone going into a nursing home with an iPad and walking room to room and getting people to click buttons and then they get a couple of powers of attorney," Diamond said.
Perez responded that it was possible for criminals to take advantage of elderly people, even with the current notary requirements.
The split opinion isn’t just among political people. Two different sections of the Florida Bar Association have two different opinions. The attorneys in the Elder Law section said that being able to have documents notarized online will make it far easier for Florida seniors to do their estate planning. However, the attorneys in the Real Property Probate and Trust Law section disagree, saying that the risk of fraud for the elderly would increase.
Reference: San Francisco Chronicle (March 27, 2019) “Florida may allow legal papers to be notarized online”