Estate planning involves planning for the future in order to help protect your property, assets, and family in the event of your death. Setting a will can be a crucial first step in starting to plan for what will happen to your assets in case that happens.
A will – also called a last will and testament – is a written document that can do numerous things. With a will, you can leave your property and assets to people or organizations, name a guardian to take care of your children, designate a person to manage property left to minor children, and name a personal representative to ensure your will terms are followed through.
Florida Will Requirements
If you want to create a will in Florida, you need to be at least 18 years old, competent, and of sound mind at the time you sign it. Your will also has to be written, then witnessed and signed by two other people.
Your will does not have to be notarized in Florida unless you want to make it “self-proving.” A self-proving will has the ability to speed up the probate process because it can be accepted as-is without the court having to contact your two signing witnesses.
If you want to make your will self-proving, you and your two witnesses will have to go to a notary and sign an affidavit. The affidavit proves who you are and acknowledges that each person knows they are signing a will.
You can change your will as many times as you like – as long as you are competent, not under duress, fraud, or undue influence, and follow proper procedure.
What If I Don’t Make a Will?
Dying without a will is called dying “intestate.” And if you die without a will, your property will be divided according to intestacy laws. In Florida, this means that your property will go to your closest family members, starting with your spouse and children.
If you don’t have a spouse or children, your property will go to your parents or grandchildren. This continues with distant relatives and could include siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or even your spouse’s relatives.
If you don’t have any living relatives, the state of Florida will take your property.
When you die without a will, the court will appoint a personal representative to manage your estate, which will then go through probate. Probate can be costly, time-consuming, and more of a hassle than if you had just created a will.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Set a Will?
You don’t need to have a lawyer in order to create a will. You can make your own will by using specific will software or online will programs. However, you should take great care in using these, because the documents they offer are essentially “form letters,” and many people find that they do not adapt well to their specific needs.
Your best bet if you want a will that is uniquely designed for you and your situation is to contact an experienced estate planning attorney. This is especially important if you think creating your will be a complicated process or that there is a chance your will might be contested, because a lawyer can help sort through these issues. An estate planning attorney can also provide alternatives to a will, such as a trust, that may be better suited to your needs.
If you want to discuss your unique needs for a will or any other estate planning advice, contact a knowledgeable estate planning attorney today.
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.