How to Write a Will in Florida
April 14th, 2021
Creating a Will is a perfect example of how an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Writing a will while you are alive and healthy saves your family a lot of hassle after you pass away. Here is a step-by-step guide to prepare for and learn how to write a will in Florida.
Step 1: Think of Who You Need to Provide for in Your Will
First, make a list of everyone you need or want to provide for in your Will. If you die without a Will, Florida probate law says all of your assets will be divided between your surviving spouse and closest legal relatives. With a Will, you can also include:
- Step children
- More distant relatives (i.e. nieces, nephews, and cousins)
- Fictive Kin (i.e. people who call you “Auntie”)
- Close friends
Make a list of everyone you want to leave assets to, so you are sure no one will be left out.
Step 2: Identify All Your Assets and Determine Which Pass Through Your Will
Next, create a master list of all your assets. Include everything, from your home and investment accounts, to family heirlooms or sentimental items. Don’t forget:
- Life insurance
- Retirement accounts
- Intangible assets (i.e. cryptocurrency accounts)
- Digital assets (i.e. social media accounts, photo accounts)
With the full list in hand, work with your estate planning attorney to determine which assets will pass automatically (like jointly held bank accounts and insurance benefits). Make sure the right beneficiaries are designated for these non-probate assets. Everything else needs to be accounted for within your Will.
Step 3: Decide Who to Name as Personal Representative
With these lists in hand you are now prepared to write your Will. Start by deciding to put in charge of carrying out the probate process. This personal representative is the person who will handle all your estate’s affairs after you pass. Choose someone who has the practical and financial ability to manage your estate, work with your creditors, and care for your family.
Step 4: Name a Guardian for Your Children
If you have minor children, your Will should also designate a guardian to care for your children if you and your spouse or co-parent are both unable to do so. This might be a grandparent or a god-parent.
Having children that could inherit while they are young is also one reason to create a revocable trust in place of a Will. This trust protects the money you leave to your children and allows a trustee to oversee their care and support. Speak with your attorney about how a trust can protect your children and provide for them for years after you are gone.
Step 5: Be Specific About Who Should Receive Which Assets
As testator, the person making a Will has a lot of control over who gets what assets. Describe each gift as specifically as possible. This could mean:
- Using heirs’ full legal names (rather than “my son”)
- Awarding fixed dollar amounts or percentages of particular bank accounts (i.e. “25% of the US Bank Account ending XXXX”)
- Including legal descriptions for real property or VIN numbers for vehicles.
- Making a numbered list of tangible personal property items and putting tags or stickers on the items with the same numbers
- Include a “residuary clause” that explains who inherits everything that you have not specifically provided for.
Step 6: Prepare for the Unexpected
One common mistake people make when learning how to write a Will in Florida is assuming that circumstances won’t change before the Will is probated. A Will is usually written years, if not decades, before a judge reads it. A lot can change in the meantime. Your estate planning attorney can help you write your Will to survive common changes (like buying a replacement vehicle). You can also identify alternative or subsequent heirs, personal representatives, and guardians who can fill any gaps left in your estate plan. That way none of your assets or affairs will fall through the cracks.
Step 7: Sign Your Will With Witnesses and a Notary
In Florida, for a Will to be valid it must be signed or acknowledged by the testator (the one writing the will) in the presence of two witnesses who sign it in the presence of both the testator and each other. You can’t sign your Will and then send it to your witnesses to sign later at their convenience. Instead, your estate planning attorney can help you coordinate the execution of your Will to make sure you fill all the state’s signing requirements. If you want your will to be self-proving, so that the Court will accept it after you pass away without an oath from a witness, then you and the witnesses must sign in front of a notary who is not acting as one of the witnesses.
Step 8: Have a Family Meeting to Discuss Your Will
A Will is only useful if your family knows it exists after your death. It is usually a good idea to have a conversation with the people you name as personal representative and guardian, as well as your heirs, after your Will is executed. By being clear about your intentions ahead of time you reduce the chances that family members will contest the Will during the probate process. Your attorney can help you bring everyone together and explain the process, as well as how you made your decisions.
Step 9: Keep Your Will Up to Date
There are lots of reasons you may need to change your Will or estate plan over time. You could get married, have another child, or someone you intended to leave assets to might pass first. You should review your entire estate plan any time there is a big change in your life, or at least every 3 to 5 years.
Writing a Will is much different than it appears on television. It should be done thoughtfully and with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. At Harrison Estate Law, we know how to write a will in Florida that is thoughtful and inclusive. We will be happy to meet with you to review your heirs and your assets, and draft a Will or trust to protect your legacy and provide for your family for years to come. Please contact us online or via email or call 352-559-9828 to schedule a free consultation. If you don’t live close to Gainesville or are practicing social distancing, we are happy to set up a phone or zoom call.