Mistakes happen. No one likes making them, but when they happen, mistakes give us the opportunity to think about the decisions we made and learn from them so that we can have better results next time.
When we’re making plans for our estate, however, there isn’t a “next time.” We have one chance to get it right or risk putting our loved ones through further pain and stress.
Upon your death, regardless of whether you do or don’t have a will, your estate will go through probate. There are some estate planning techniques that you can use to avoid probate, but generally speaking this is the way it goes for everyone.
What is probate? It’s the process for administering your estate, which includes identifying your property and assets, paying your debts, and finally distributing whatever remains to your beneficiaries.
Why do we have to go through this process?
Probate is needed in order to legally pass ownership of your probate assets to your beneficiaries. If you have a will, probate court will make sure that it is valid and then ensure that your will is followed. If you don’t have a will, probate court will distribute your assets according to Florida law.
Since probate accomplishes so much, it’s important to make sure you have all the necessary measures in place to ensure the probate process goes as smoothly as possible for your loved ones. To further this ends, let’s look at some potential probate mistakes and what steps you can take to avoid them.
1. Poor estate organization. If your estate and essential documents are in disarray, your family might have a difficult time locating everything that’s necessary to get through the probate process. And this disorganization can potentially be costly.
In order to avoid this mistake, stay organized! First, write a will and make sure it’s in line with Florida’s laws. Keep the original somewhere safe and make copies just in case something happens. Also, let a few people who you trust know where your will is located so they can find it if necessary.
Then, along with your will, have a detailed list of your property and assets and make copies of all relevant and important documents. By doing this, you’re making it easy for your loved ones to find everything they need without having to go on a search.
2. Not choosing a reliable and trustworthy personal representative. When you write your will, you get to designate who will be your personal representative or the executor of your estate. In the probate process, the personal representative has a number of responsibilities he or she must complete in order to successfully manage and close out your estate. That’s why choosing someone who you trust and can rely on is crucial.
Your personal representative will have to make a thorough assessment of your property and assets, get qualified help from advisors, keep detailed records, and communicate well with your family, beneficiaries, and creditors – even if they are a handful. On top of that, since we’re dealing with the law, your representative also has to do everything by the books.
So don’t just name someone off the top of your head. Make sure the person you choose is capable of such an undertaking, and that they are willing to accept the role. If a personal representative is unable to serve, they can decline the position. If you don’t have an alternate or you don’t have a will to begin with, the court will make the decision for you.
3. Hiring an unqualified attorney. When you have a broken pipe under your sink, you’re going to hire an experienced plumber to fix the problem. It should be no different when dealing with a legal issue like this. To craft a solid estate plan, you need to find an experienced and qualified Florida estate planning attorney.
Because the plans you make for your estate are so important, you need to hire an attorney who is well versed in Florida’s laws and has a reputation for excellence. Everything you’ve worked for throughout your life is on the line, and you want to make sure your property, assets, and loved ones are taken care of when you die.
Additionally, a skilled probate administration attorney will be able to advise you on how to make probate easier, quicker, and cheaper for both you and your family. Depending on your estate and your particular needs, a knowledgeable probate attorney should be able to make suggestions and present the best possible options available you to.
By planning for probate now, you can hopefully avoid any potential mistakes and their costly outcomes during the actual probate process. Your family, friends, and other loved ones will be grateful for that.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.