When they die, most people leave behind some possessions, including money, property, and personal belongings. Together, these things are called their ‘estate.’ The only way you be sure to control what will happen to your estate after you pass away is estate planning plan. 

What Happens Without an Estate Plan?

If you don’t have a will or estate plan when you die it’s called, “dying intestate.” Essentially, the state comes in, takes inventory of your assets, and attempts to locate any heirs and creditors. The Florida Intestacy Statutes dictates how your property will be distributed to your heirs. 

Your property will also go through probate. “Probate” is the legal process to transfer property from a deceased person to the living people who are legally entitled to receive it. Probate in Florida is notoriously lengthy and expensive. The primary purpose of the probate system is to satisfy any of your debts, pay outstanding taxes, and distribute your property to the rightful beneficiaries. 

Even with a will, your executor must file additional documents with the probate court to report your debts, assets, and how those assets will be distributed. But at least with a will, you’ll control what happens to your stuff when you pass away. 

The probate process can be expensive and time-consuming, and many people prefer to save their family’s money and hassle by avoiding it. Probate can be avoided if you act during your lifetime. After your death, your family won’t take steps to avoid probate of your estate. 

Setting up a trust, for example, can save money by reducing probate costs and can save frustration by cutting down the time it takes for your assets to pass to your loved ones. A trust is a legal vehicle that allows a third party, a trustee, to hold and direct assets into a trust fund on behalf of a beneficiary. 

A common misperception is that trusts are only for the wealthy. On the contrary, a trust can be a valuable estate planning tool for many families who want to protect their assets, minimize the tax burdens of their loved ones, and ensure their secure future.

Estate Planning in Florida

Avoiding probate isn’t the only reason to consider estate planning. It’s a good idea for everyone to do some essential estate planning to ensure that your wishes are followed after your death. You can also spare your family an unnecessary expense and delay in inheriting your assets. 

Your estate plan has one purpose: to make sure your welfare and your affairs are handled according to your wishes once you can no longer make decisions for yourself. In addition to Wills and Trusts, other essential estate planning documents in Florida include:  

A Florida Durable Power of Attorney is a document that allows you to appoint an individual to make critical decisions on your behalf such as your financial, medical, and legal affairs. It is a legally binding document that lists specifically what that person can do and what they cannot do. 

A Living Will is a form of Advance Directive recognized by the State of Florida that lets you express your decisions about health care if you are in a persistent vegetative state, have an end-stage condition, or develop a terminal illness. It’s similar to a Durable Power of Attorney but is limited to health care only. 

Instead of a Living Will, you could designate a Health Care Surrogate. A Health Care Surrogate is someone appointed to make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. 

Estate planning should not be a one-time occurrence. Your estate plan should change over time to reflect your current assets, affairs, and expectations. If you want your will or trust to honor your wishes, you need to do your part to keep your estate plan up to date.

There’s a lot to consider with an estate plan that takes care of your assets according to your wishes and ensures a smooth process for your family. Mortellaro Law, located in Tampa, Florida, has the experience you need. Call our team of estate planning lawyers at 813-367-1500 to learn more about our experienced lawyers and find out if we’re the right fit for your estate planning needs.