If you passed away today, would you be satisfied knowing that your estate is in order?
It’s never too early to begin thinking about your will and estate. Creating an estate plan can provide you and your family with peace of mind, and can make the process of transferring property and possessions run smoothly after you pass away.
Neglect to do this and your family may have to deal with all kinds of stressful and frustrating issues regarding your estate – all while working through their emotions over losing you.
In simple terms, an estate plan helps to protect your family in the event of your incapacitation or death. While the importance of an estate plan is undisputable, more than 55 percent of all adult Americans do not even have a will.
Taking care of all necessary legal documentation early on can lessen the burden on your family, and will help them to avoid many of the delays and expenses that can occur due to a lack of an estate plan.
In Florida, there are several critical estate planning documents that everyone should complete. These include a:
- Financial Power of Attorney
- Living Will
- Designation of Healthcare Surrogate
Last Will and Testament. A will or “last will and testament” is a legal document in which you identify the individuals, charities, or organizations that will receive your property and possessions upon your death. In your will, you can also name the guardian that will care for your minor children, as well as a trusted person to manage any property that you will leave to them until they reach adulthood. You can also include the name of a personal representative to ensure that all of the terms in your will are carried out.
If you die in the state of Florida without a will, your property will be distributed to your family according to the state’s intestacy laws. Intestacy laws in Florida state that your property will be given to your closest relatives, starting with your children and spouse. If you do not have children or a spouse, your property will be given to the next closest relatives, such as your parents, grandchildren, or siblings. If the state of Florida finds that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, your property will go to the state.
Living Will. Your estate plan should also include a living will. This is a written statement that details the wishes for end-of-life medical care in the event that you are not able to communicate or make decisions. Without a living will, family members may have disputes regarding your treatment. Florida’s living will law provides individuals suffering from terminal conditions the ability to forego any “death-delaying procedures” if he or she is no longer able to make lucid decisions and has expressed this in their living will.
Financial Power of Attorney. A Durable Power of Attorney for finances is an effective way to put a trusted individual in charge of any monetary decisions if you become incapacitated and cannot deal with them yourself.
In Florida, a financial power of attorney takes effect immediately after you sign the document. To ensure that the document will not automatically end if you become incapacitated, you must specify that you want it to be “durable.”
Alternatively, you can state in the document that it does not go into effect unless you become incapacitated. If you do this, it will end at your death, when you get a divorce, or if it’s revoked.
Designation of Health Care Surrogate. In Florida, you are able to name someone your health care surrogate. This will help ensure that your wishes relating to healthcare are honored if you’re not able to make your own medical care decisions due to an accident, illness, or advanced age.
Under Florida law, you may have a family member or close friend act as your surrogate, but your surrogate can not be a witness to your documents. These documents should detail the name of the person designated to direct your healthcare, as well as the types of medical treatments you would like to receive in various situations.
Other potential estate planning tools to consider include trusts and designating a guardian. In many instances, proper planning will help to protect you and your loved ones, and can greatly reduce or eliminate the need for probate.
During probate proceedings, the validity of a will is determined, all claims on the estate are settled, and all property and possessions are distributed to the proper parties. Probate cannot always be avoided, especially when dealing with large estates. It’s important to note that not all assets go through probate, including property held in joint tenancy, assets with a designed beneficiary, and assets held in a living will.
If you need assistance will estate planning, contact a skilled Florida estate planning attorney.
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.