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Florida Snowbirds Face Specific Estate Planning Challenges

Florida attracts many tourists and part-time residents who are looking to escape the harsh winters in the north. These "snowbirds" may begin by renting or sharing properties for half of the year, but many invest in a second home to enjoy milder climates year-round. While this choice offers health and financial benefits, splitting significant periods of time between two residences has important consequences for your estate plan.

Problems with Estate Planning for Multiple Homes

If you own multiple homes/pieces of property, it's vital to have the correct legal documents to streamline the transfer of property upon your death. Otherwise, your surviving family members may be forced to go through the court-administered probate process in not one state but multiple states, costing your heirs time, money and a great deal of difficulty. Our Florida estate planning attorneys can examine your holdings and help ensure that everything you worked hard for is passed to your heirs as smoothly as possible.

Without proper planning, snowbirds and their family members may face a number of difficulties, including:

  • Multiple probates. If you own property in more than one state, each property may have to go through probate in different jurisdictions. For example, let's say you have a family home in Ohio and a winter home in Florida. After your passing, your family would begin the probate process in Ohio, which would include your home, bank accounts, and other intangible property. However, state courts don't have the authority to handle probate for property that's physically located in a different state. This means your winter home would require ancillary (or secondary) probate in Florida, including separate court proceedings and filing requirements.
  • Healthcare disputes. Each state has specific laws regarding who will act on a person's behalf when they become incapacitated. Someone must be appointed to make decisions about medical treatment, access financial accounts to pay ongoing expenses, and ensure that a loved one's wishes regarding end-of-life care are followed. If there are conflicting directives in different states, family members may disagree on treatment or financial matters, causing family disharmony and making a difficult situation worse. Our law firm has experience in both estate planning and elder law, allowing us to craft comprehensive powers of attorney and advance directives to eliminate any confusion when a loved one needs care.
  • Long-Term Care Issues. As you age, it is generally helpful to think about where you are going to get long-term care, particularly if you get dementia or some other type of chronic care issues. At some point in our lives, you may think about downsizing or moving to where your family is so they can help you more. Also, the nursing home is very expensive - some states allow Medicaid and asset protection planning within the five-year look-back period, some do not. The big picture is that your estate plan should be able to adapt to a change in health care needs, and a good elder law attorney can discuss Medicaid/asset protection as you age, which may include creating an irrevocable trust to protect your assets from the nursing home.
  • Estate litigation. Too often, residents put off creating or adjusting their estate plans after making a move to Florida. Unfortunately, this can leave family members with estate administration problems that result in higher expenses, long and convoluted probate proceedings, and even unpleasant family disputes.

A Living Trust Can Help Avoid Multiple Probates

Estate planning for Florida snowbirdsOne way for snowbirds to avoid the need for probate is to place property into a trust. In most states, trust property is exempt from probate, and is passed directly from the original trustee to a successor trustee.

This not only allows instant control and access to a loved one's assets, but it also minimizes (or even eliminates) much of the costs associated with estate administration.

If you have recently made the wise choice to spend your winters in Florida, you should have a local attorney review your existing estate plan. Even if your documents provide protection for your house and property "back home," they may need some small adjustments to accommodate your new life as a snowbird. We can determine if there are any errors, omissions, or gaps in your plan that could reduce your children's inheritances, and create a trust with the flexibility to provide for your heirs on your terms.

If you're enjoying retirement in Florida, the attorneys at DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis can make a plan for your assets and affairs that gives you peace of mind. Simply fill out the quick contact form on this page to set up a consultation and get answers to your questions.