Estate planning is the process of creating a strategy to transfer your assets when you pass away. You estate plan will lay out who you want to receive the assets, what they should inherit, and how that inheritance should be managed. It can also designate who will care for your young children or pets, and describe how you want to be treated in your final days. Depending on your circumstances, your estate plan could include several documents:
A Living Will allows you to control the medical care that will be used to keep you alive when you are brain dead, terminally ill, or otherwise unable to communicate. It does not replace a Last Will and Testament and will not apply after you pass away.
Trusts are separate, private legal entities created for the benefit of the person who created them, or their loved ones. Revocable trusts can act as “will substitutes”, allowing you to transfer assets to your beneficiaries after you pass away. They are often used to create other, specialized trusts after your death to provide for a loved one’s care, pay your estate taxes, or shelter your assets from your family’s creditors. Irrevocable trusts can be used to manage your family’s assets and protect your loved one’s eligibility for means-tested government benefits.
Florida has laws that apply whenever a person dies without a Will or Trust. However, those laws may not properly protect you, your assets and loved ones. You should have an estate plan if you care about how you are treated in your final illness, want to control who inherits your assets, need to provide for a loved one’s care, or want to avoid the hassle of probate.
It is almost never too early to start estate planning, but it can be too late. You can only create an estate plan while you are alive and competent -- meaning you have the required mental capacity. When a terminal illness or degenerative condition affects your ability to think, remember, or communicate your wishes, it could also interfere with your ability to control what happens to your assets after you pass away. You shouldn’t wait to see if you will be diagnosed with these conditions. Start your estate planning early so you know your wishes will be protected.
Probate is the legal process the Florida Court uses to distribute a person’s assets after he or she passes away. It involves appointing a personal representative a/k/a executor, obtaining for that person “Letters of Administration” or “Letters Testamentary”, identifying and inventorying all the assets of the decedent (the person who died), and distributing them according to state law or the terms of the person’s will.
The idea of having their affairs made public in Court and enduring a lengthy Court proceeding is distasteful to many Florida residents. If you want to avoid probate, having a Will is generally not enough. You will need to create a Revocable Trust and a related “Pourover Will.” As long as your trust is properly funded, these two documents together will make sure your assets pass seamlessly to your beneficiaries, without having to go through the probate process.
Before a trust can have any practical effect, it must be funded. That means you have to transfer your assets into the trust’s name. Because a trust is a separate legal entity, you will need to execute deeds, assignments, and other paperwork with your financial institutions to properly fund your trust. At Harrison Estate Law, we know this can be an intimidating and confusing process. We offer a full range of trust-funding services to make sure everything is taken care of now, before it is too late.
Many Florida residents are worried that an estate plan won’t be enough to protect their assets from creditors, the IRS, or angry ex-spouses. There are many strategies you can use to shield your assets from bill collectors and others trying to lay a claim. At Harrison Estate Law, we would be happy to meet with you and discuss your circumstances, to identify the strategies that will work best for you.