Estate planning goes far beyond writing a simple will and last testament. While a will could help your family avoid the travails of intestate succession, it cannot spare your loved ones from the rigors of Florida probate.
Ideally, an estate plan should be comprehensive, protecting not only your assets and heirs but your health and finances, too.
Your Estate Planning Checklist
Every estate plan should be tailored to its creator—the testator/testatrix—and his or her heirs. While the fine details of wills and trusts might vary between testators, most Floridians should have the following:
A Last Will and Testament
A will is a common estate planning document that allows its writer to decide how their assets should be distributed upon their death. However, wills serve other important purposes. Aside from inheritance decisions, a will lets you
- Nominate the Personal Representative (important if family will fight/argue)
- Give the Personal Representative power of sale of real property (helping the probate)
- Designate a guardian for a minor child
- Create trusts for minor/disabled children or other heirs
Without a will, a trust, or other legal instrument, a deceased person’s assets will be distributed according to the Florida Probate Code’s intestate succession statutes. These statutes typically privilege close blood relations. Under the right—or wrong—circumstances, intestate proceedings may effectively disinherit loved ones you had intended to give gifts after death.
Some accounts— such as IRAs, 401Ks and life insurance policies—have in-built beneficiary designations. A beneficiary designation is a mechanism that facilitates the transfer of assets from the account holder to the beneficiary after the account holder’s death. In general, these assets are not subject to probate and are NOT distibuted according to the will.
An Advanced Healthcare Directive
Advanced health care directives are two sets of documents:
- A living will allows the you to decide which treatment they may, or may not, receive if they are ever critically incapacitated and unable to make or consent to medical decisions by themselves. Here are some frequently asked questions about living wills in Florida.
- A designation of health care surrogate allows you to name the right person to make your medical decisions
Financial Power of Attorney
The durable financial power of attorney is a legal document that appoints someone, called an agent, to manage your finances on your behalf.
Similar to an advanced health care directive, the durable financial power of attorney may be used if you are ever incapacitated or otherwise in a position where you cannot manage your finances and other valuable assets. Your agent could have the power to pay your bills, manage your investments, or even oversee your business operations. This document is very important!!
When to Consider a Living Trust
A revocable living trust is a legal instrument that lets you make decisions about how your assets will be distributed after you die. A trust is, in essence, a vessel that can receive assorted assets. When assets are transferred to the control of a revocable living trust, they are re-titled to the trust. Trust assets could include:
- Real property (land)
- Bank accounts
- Stocks, bonds and mutual funds
- and more . . .
While trusts require some documentation and limited maintenance, they can completely negate the need for probate. Revocable living trusts have other advantages over traditional wills. For example:
- Since trust assets are not typically subject to probate and may fall outside of the probate court’s jurisdiction, trust-based successions are comparatively private and hassle-free
- Distributions from a trust can be conditioned, allowing the trustor to determine how, when, and under what circumstances a beneficiary may receive their inheritance
- Trusts can protect heirs’ inheritances, as trust assets cannot be seized during divorce or bankruptcy
Contact a Florida Estate Planning Attorney Today
Almost everybody understands the importance of estate planning. Unfortunately, far too few Americans ever take the right steps to cement their legacy. If you need to speak to an experienced Florida estate planning attorney, please send DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis, PA, a message online or call us at 727-397-5571 to speak to a legal professional and schedule your initial consultation.