Contrary to popular opinion, creating a will is not the only thing you need to do in estate planning. Focusing only on a will closes the door to various advanced estate planning techniques that allow for greater control and nuance.
From trusts that allow for post-life planning, to advance directives that protect your medical wishes, here are the top 5 reasons why you need more than a will in your estate plan:
Do I Only Need a Will in My Estate Plan?
Having a will is one of the top priorities in estate planning. It will ensure that you can have some control over where and to whom your assets and money go after death. But it is also limiting; it only provides for on-death instructions, like “leave my estate to my children” or “share my cars amongst my brothers”.
With only a will, there is no chance for planning and control beyond the initial instructions. It also does not help avoid the probate process. To avoid those issues, you need to consider the following advanced planning options:
- You Need a Trust for Advanced Planning
Trusts are not just for the super-wealthy. They are available to all levels of wealth and allow you to gain significant long-term control over your assets – even after death.
Trusts are legal entities that can hold assets, for the benefit of others. You create a trust in your name, transfer the assets to it and then list conditions and instructions for asset management and distribution.
This can allow you to ensure assets, such as real estate, are managed in the best interests of the beneficiaries. For example, a property could be sold only when the market is in a better position. Or, beneficiaries may only receive their share of the assets or funds when they reach milestones or under certain conditions (such as a 21st birthday or a wedding day).
We highly advise the consideration of a trust for all Florida residents, but especially those meeting the following criteria:
- You have multiple high-value assets, such as businesses, real estate and vehicles.
- To allow your heirs to get instant access to assets and funds after your death.
- For families with special needs children.
- To preserve assets for children from previous marriages.
- To reduce potential tax liability for children.
- To share wealth among multiple future generations.
- To designate funds specifically for your pet (pet trust).
- To leave funds to a non-US citizen spouse.
- To reduce the impact of gift taxes.
There are dozens of types of trusts available with advanced estate planning in Florida, and we welcome you to contact our Pinellas County estate planning attorney to determine the optimal type for you and your family.
Read Related: A Guide to Different Types of Trusts in Estate Planning
Trusts can also allow your assets to bypass probate and go directly to your beneficiaries upon your death. With just a will, your heirs will have to wait for the probate process to authenticate the will and manage the distribution. It can take months or even years.
A trust will avoid that entirely, as the assets are owned by the trust. The listed beneficiaries may gain direct ownership of the assets as permitted by the trust.
Thinking you only need a will means you’ll overlook your health care and end-of-life wishes! Advance directives are completed in a separate document, witnessed by two individuals (one who cannot be a spouse or blood relative).
You can also select a healthcare proxy, who will be allowed to access otherwise private medical information and make medical decisions on your behalf.
These directives can be critical as they can allow you to state how you want to be treated in emergency situations, such as a serious accident or illness that’s left you unable to state your wishes. Memorializing your wishes in a legal way can massively reduce the burden placed on your loved ones to make difficult calls or remember your treatment and medication preferences. For example, what should happen if you’re on life support?
Advance directives can also be used for post-death wishes, such as organ donation and funeral preferences.
Read Related: How to Plan Advance Directives in Florida
You can also use a Power of Attorney (POA) to legally authorize an individual to act on your behalf for important matters such as taxes, property, finances, investment and other financial decisions.
This is a commonly overlooked area of advanced estate planning, but one that allows you to gain a lot of security in emergencies, business or if you’re traveling outside the state – such as if you can’t sign a document.
There are various types of POAs, such as:
- General Power of Attorney: Broad authority given over your legal life.
- Limited Power of Attorney: Authority provided for a specified purpose and duration.
- Durable Power of Attorney: Only active if you become incapacitated.
If you need assistance setting up a Power of Attorney, we welcome you to read our guide on Power of Attorney and to contact our Pinellas County estate planning lawyers.
Advanced estate planning can also be very helpful at making it very difficult for creditors to access your assets.
As Florida is a debtor-friendly state, nearly anyone can use asset protection to their advantage – at any stage of debt. It is very complicated, however, so please contact our Pinellas County asset protection attorneys for assistance.
Note that there are also ‘Super Creditors’ who can bypass asset protection exemptions under federal law. These include the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission.
Asset protection estate planning works by structuring the assets so that they may be held in the following ways:
- Individual Name
- Multiple Parties Names: Spouse, Domestic Partnerships, General Partnerships, Joint Ventures
- Entities, including: Corporations, LLCs and Limited Partnerships
Contact a Pinellas County Advanced Estate Planning Lawyers
If you are looking for more advanced ways to plan your estate than a will, then our Pinellas County estate planning lawyers can help. We regularly help Florida residents and families to plan for their futures, even beyond death, through advanced estate planning.
Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & McQuaid, P.A. is U.S. News and World Reports Tier 1 law firm in Florida, specializing in Estate Planning & Probate since 1958. With award-winning experienced attorneys, they can help you start and complete the probate process or tackle any probate litigation issues.
Schedule a free assessment today to get started or to get any questions answered.