Frequently Asked Questions and Answers: ESTATE PLANNING

What is estate planning and why is it important?
An uncomfortable question that we all must consider is "what happens to my assets and my loved ones once I die?" The answer is simple - your estate plan preserves your intent and legacy wishes regarding the distribution of your assets following your death. In order to ensure your wishes are followed and your estate is protected, you must maintain an up-to-date and comprehensive estate plan. An estate plan also avoids family conflict and may assist heirs in paying less in taxes and court costs; however, more than half of Americans do not have a Will or estate plan.

Estate planning involves the planning and preparation of legal documents identifying how an individual's assets will be preserved, managed and distributed after death. Your estate plan also includes your intentions regarding future health decisions and an appointed surrogate, preneed guardian and attorney-in-fact to manage your assets in the event of incapacity. Your estate plan should be created now to protect you in the future.


What are the "must have" estate planning documents?
The "must have" estate planning documents include, but are not limited to, the following: a Last Will and Testament ("Will"), a Revocable Living Trust Agreement or Irrevocable Trust Agreement, a Durable Power of Attorney, Living Will, a declaration of Preneed Guardian and Health Care Surrogate Designation. Other tools may be used in developing an estate plan depending on your personal estate planning objectives, life stage, businesses and special circumstances. This may include transferring assets into Trusts, re-titling your assets to transfer to beneficiaries upon your death, and planning to avoid probate.


Do I need a Will?
Every individual should have a Will. Whether you are single or married, have children or not, we recommend that you have an updated and valid Will as the foundation to your estate plan. Your Will solidifies your wishes regarding the disposition of your personal property after your death and allows you to decide rather than Florida law (laws of "intestacy"). Your Will can also include your wishes for cremation and specific instructions regarding your burial.


How do I create a Will?
Creating a Will is simple once you consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. It is important to consult with an attorney who practices in this area of law to assist you in avoiding legal issues that may arise with an improperly drafted Will. Florida has very specific requirements as to how a Will is prepared and signed; therefore, we recommend your consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to assist you in drafting your Will and estate planning documents to protect your estate.


When does my Will and estate plan take effect?
Your Will only takes effect following your death - prior to death or incapacity, you can amend, modify and even revoke your Will as many times as you wish. Immediately upon your death, the document becomes irrevocable and thereafter governs how your assets are distributed. Other estate planning documents, such as a Revocable Trust Agreement, Durable Power of Attorney, Living Will, and Health Care Surrogate Designation take effect during your lifetime and are valid once executed. For example, you may be appointed as the Initial Trustee of your Revocable Trust so you can control and manage the trust assets during your lifetime. These estate planning documents can also be revised during your lifetime prior to incapacity or death.


Does a Will protect my children?
A properly drafted Will can protect your minor children by nominating a future guardian of your children if you are deceased. The named guardian will take care and custody of the child, but may also assume responsibility for assets your child inherits - the Will can avoid the need to set-up a guardianship in Probate Court if your child inherits more than $15,000.00 from your estate. In a world of uncertainly, we recommend that you create a Will and estate plan now to protect your loved ones against unforeseen consequences following your death.


When should I prepare an estate plan?
Estate planning is for everyone.

Unfortunately, we cannot predict how long we will live, when we will become ill and accidents happen all the time to all individuals. Your estate plan includes your intent regarding future health decisions and your future estate. You decide what will happen to you if you are incapacitated and assign a person to carry out your wishes. If you do not plan, then the State of Florida will determine your estate plan and it may not match your wishes.

In Florida, you must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind in order to prepare a Will. Upon reaching the age of majority (18), most individuals are entering the work force, starting families and developing their future estates. Because your estate plan concerns decisions affecting your life before death, we encourage all individuals who are capable of creating a Will and estate plan to do so under the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney. As your life changes, you can amend, alter and modify your Will to reflect your wishes at that time.