There are dozens of Florida estate planning frequently asked questions (FAQs) that need answers.
Why? Because Florida estate planning is one of the most important things you can do in your life, regardless of age. But for most people, legal terminology and decisions are daunting and confusing. In this blog, we’re doing an estate planning 101:
Florida Estate Planning Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS):
- What Is Estate Planning?
- Why Is Estate Planning Important?
- What Is an Estate?
- What Is a Will?
- Do I Need a Will?
- What Happens If Some Dies without a Will?
- Do I Need an Attorney to Help Write a Will?
- What Is Probate?
- How to Avoid Probate in Florida?
- Why Would I Want to Avoid Probate?
- How Long Do I Have to Start Probate in Florida?
- What Are Trusts?
- How Can I Make Plans for My Pet?
- What Are Florida’s Estate Tax Rules?
- Is it Ok to Use a DIY Will Service?
What Is Estate Planning?
Estate planning is the preparation and arrangement of documents and assets, so there is a plan in place in the event of incapacitation or death.
Without legal documents recording any plans, assets and estates will be shared and transferred by the courts.
Why Is Estate Planning Important?
Estate planning gives you the chance to ensure your wealth and assets are transferred as you wish following your death. It can also ensure the estate is protected from creditors and taxes.
Estate planning can also protect your loved ones, children and pets after your death. As well as legally putting plans in place for your incapacitation.
What Is an Estate?
An estate is everything you own before it is distributed by a will, trust or the law. Estates usually contain real estate, investments, bank accounts, cars, securities and personal belongings.
What Is a Will?
A will or last testament is the name of a legal document that states someone’s wishes and plans for the distribution of their estate after their death. It may also contain information on the handling of their burial or cremation and the guardianship of their children.
If signed under appropriate conditions, this document is irrefutable and must be followed.
Do I Need a Will?
If you do not have a will and last testament, you effectively hand over control of your assets and estate to the State of Florida. When you pass away, it will be the laws and courts that decide how your estate is distributed.
A valid and well-prepared (with the help of an estate planning attorney) will give you the chance to minimize family conflict, protect your wealth and your loved ones. It is advised that everyone has a will, but especially those with assets or children.
What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will?
If someone dies without a will in Florida, then Florida Intestacy Statutes will determine the distribution of their assets. You can read more in our guide to ‘What Happens If Someone Dies Without a Will?’ here.
Do I Need an Attorney to Help Write a Will?
There is no legal obligation to have an attorney draft a will with you in Florida. However, it is advised that you have an estate planning attorney assist you in the process to ensure the document is valid and that there are no misinterpretations in your text. If your estate is complex or of high value, it would be a huge risk not to work with an attorney.
What Is Probate?
Probate is the legal process for identifying, gathering and distributing the estate and assets of a deceased person.
Here in Florida, this process is court-supervised and includes:
- Recognizing the will
- Appointing a personal representative (also known as an ‘executor’)
- Paying the decedent’s debts
- Following the will’s instructions to distribute assets to the beneficiaries.
How to Avoid Probate in Florida?
Avoiding probate in Florida is possible through various routes, such as setting up a trust. The best option for you may be very different to someone else, which is why you should always speak to a Florida estate planning attorney.
Why Would I Want to Avoid Probate?
With complex estates, probate can be a long and drawn-out process with many assets to gather and debts to pay off. Even in smaller estates, it only takes one family member to dispute the validity of the will to slow it all down.
Avoiding probate can allow assets and wealth to automatically go to your loved ones after your death, without the court’s involvement.
Probate also reveals personal information to the public, which you may not want to be exposed.
You should speak to a Florida estate planning attorney before deciding on whether you want to avoid probate and if so, how you will do it.
How Long Do I Have to Start Probate in Florida?
Florida probate deadlines state that ‘Petition for Administration’ and the Will must be filed with the court within ten days of being notified of the decedent’s death. There may be other applicable deadlines, which you can learn about in our guide to ‘How Long Do I Have to Start Probate in Florida?’ here.
What Are Trusts?
A Trust is a legally binding document that holds valuable items and agreements. Assets are transferred from the ownership of an individual to the trust.
A trust can only be accessed by ‘trustees’, which is why Trustees are typically close family members such as children, siblings or closest friends.
The trustee can access, change and distribute the trust but only per the conditions laid out in the trust by the trust creator.
Trusts are distributed to specified individuals called beneficiaries. Trustees must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries.
The benefit of trusts include:
- They do not require probate, which can allow for very quick distribution of assets and estates.
- Trusts can also allow you to put time restrictions on funds and assets. For example, your grandson may be given money but only upon their 21st birthday. This can significantly change the way beneficiaries receive wealth compared to a will.
- Trusts are also confidential and hidden from the public.
You can read more about trusts in our guide to ‘What are Trusts?’ here.
How Can I Make Plans for My Pet?
In Florida, you can protect your pet’s future after your death or incapacitation through a pet trust.
Pet trusts are legal documents that provide finances, care and maintenance of your pet. No human beneficiary is required, but you must designate a responsible trustee (or allow the court to select one). The trustee will be responsible for managing and spending the funds in the pet trust.
What Are Florida’s Estate Tax Rules?
Florida does not have an estate tax or an inheritance tax. However, Florida residents may still have to pay Federal Estate Taxes. You can read more about Florida and Federal Estate Taxes in our Florida Estate Taxes guide.
Is It Ok to Use a DIY Will Service?
DIY will services provide easy-to-make wills online. With their money and time-saving benefits, many people use them. However, they can lead to extremely expensive mistakes and invalidation. It is highly advised that DIY will services are never used in place of the support of an estate planning attorney.
- Expensive mistakes and errors
- They overlook state laws
- They fail to consider estate taxes
- They are often improper witnesses
- They are vulnerable to misinterpretation
- They overlook key areas that an estate planning attorney would advise you on.
Who Can Contest a Will in Florida?
Interested persons with a justified reason and evidence can make a will contest in Florida. Interested persons include:
- A beneficiary named in the will
- Beneficiaries named in any prior version of the will
- Anyone not named in the will, but is eligible for inheritance under Intestacy Laws
- Guardians of minors.
Contact a Florida Estate Planning Attorney
If you have any questions or require any legal assistance for estate planning in Florida, then contact our Florida estate planning attorneys today.
Our attorneys can review your case and provide expert legal advice on any unusual circumstances while guiding you through the relevant process.
Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & McQuaid, P.A. is a 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 in all areas of estate planning and probate.
Schedule a free consultation today to get started or to get any questions answered.