Estates of all sizes can benefit from a thoughtful estate plan. An estate plan is not limited to protecting and disposing of your property and finances. Put simply, an estate plan is a combination of documents that allows you to plan for the disposition of your property in the event of your death as well as for your own care and the care of your family in the event you become incapacitated. Specific estate planning needs vary depending on the size and goals of the estate but most plans share some basic documents. Described below are some of the major components of a typical estate plan.
A will is a document that disposes of your assets after death and can also provide for the care of any children that are still minors at the time of your death. Even if you have a trust you will probably also have a will to dispose of personal property and to provide for your children. If you die without a will, your assets will be distributed through a process called Intestate Succession. Intestate succession distributes your assets in a way that has been predetermined by the court. Whether you are married or not, whether you have children and whether you parents are still alive at the time of your death all affect how the court will distribute your assets.
Health Care Power of Attorney
A Health Care Power of Attorney is a document that specifies who should make decisions about your medical care should you be unable to do so yourself. This is an extremely important document. If you become incapacitated without a Health Care Power of Attorney, those seeking to make decisions for you will have to go through a guardianship proceeding in which the court decides who will be your guardian; or in other words, who can make health care decisions on your behalf. A guardianship proceeding takes time and money, can be emotionally taxing and can easily be avoided by making sure you have a Health Care Power of Attorney in place.
Durable Power of Attorney
A Durable Power of Attorney is similar to a Health Care Power of Attorney except that it deals with your finances rather than your health care. In the event you become incapacitated the person you designate in your Durable Power of Attorney will be able to make sure your bills are paid and your finances are generally looked after. Without a Durable Power of Attorney, those seeking to make decisions about your finances would have to go through a conservatorship proceeding in which the court decides who will be your conservator; in other words, who will handle your finances on your behalf while you are unable to do so.
A living will describes the types of medical treatment you do or do not want to receive in the event you are no longer able to communicate those wishes.
Put simply, a trust is an arrangement in which one person (the trustee) owns and manages property on behalf of another (the beneficiary). The most common type of trust is a revocable living trust in which the same person creates the trust (the settlor), acts as trustee for the trust property, and is the beneficiary of the trust. There are several reasons for creating a trust.
The reason most often cited is a trust allows you to avoid probate. While this is true, in Florida probate is not as onerous and expensive as it is in many states and there are other ways of holding property that will also avoid probate. During probate however, the disposition of property is made public while a trust allows property to be transferred privately. Also, if you create a trust, after you die the successor trustee you have named may immediately begin to manage and dispose of the trust property as specified in the trust rather than waiting for the property to be probated. In addition, for larger estates that could face a severe estate tax, a trust can be designed to help minimize or avoid estate taxes and thereby preserve more of your assets for your heirs. A trust is also useful in the event you become incapacitated as it will allow the successor trustee to take over management of the trust property without having to go through a conservatorship proceeding.
Generally speaking, probate is the process by which an individual’s (the decedent’s) estate and affairs are distributed and administered after death. People often view probate as a burdensome and expensive process to be avoided at all costs. This may be the case in some states but fortunately in Florida, a decedent’s estate can usually be probated with virtually no involvement by the state court through a process called informal probate. During probate, someone is appointed to be the decedent’s personal representative. The personal representative is responsible for managing the decedent’s assets until the assets can be distributed according to the decedent’s will. For example, the personal representative will pay bills on behalf of the decedent’s estate and take any other steps necessary to preserve the estate’s assets. While a trip to court can often be avoided during probate, there is a fair amount of paper work to be completed and particular procedures to follow during probate. We can help guide you through the process and make it as easy as possible for you.
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We make it easy for you to get your estate planning needs met. Following a free consultation to discuss your situation and your wishes, one of our attorneys will create your estate planning documents, in many cases all for the price of a few hours of attorney time.
Before you decide to continue to go without an estate plan, check with our law firm and have us give you some peace of mind!
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