The Basics of Estate Planning: A Comprehensive Overview

Although almost everyone passes away owning at least some property and owing at least some debts, a surprisingly large number of people fail to create an estate plan. When individuals pass away without an estate plan, their family members are left with a financial and logistical mess to figure out, which can make a difficult time in their lives even more challenging. Fortunately, you make this situation much more organized and predictable for your loved ones by engaging in the estate planning process.

A Florida estate planning attorney at Kramer Green can help you create a comprehensive estate plan for you and your family. We can help you determine what your objectives are for your estate plan and how to meet those goals during the estate planning process. Together, we can determine the best course of action for you and your family members to achieve your objective in the future.

Last Will and Testament

A Last Will and Testament may serve a few different functions. First, if you have minor children, it allows you to name a guardian for your child or children if you and/or your spouse in case both their parents become incapacitated or pass away. Failing to name a guardian for minor children could result in the children ending up with a relative whom you do not want to care for the children.

Next, in the absence of a Will, the court has no direction as to how you want to distribute your property following your death. In that case, the court must follow Florida law on intestacy, which determines how property is passed on to others when an individual passes away. Again, if you leave no Will behind, your property may not go to the persons you would have chosen to receive it. Even worse, probate fees may eat up what property you leave behind.

Therefore, a primary function of a Will is for you to direct how you want your property distributed after your death and to name a personal representative to handle your property within the estate. In many cases, a Will may direct that some or all your property go into some type of trust after your death, which has various benefits. In other cases, your Will may distribute your property to specific named heirs whom you have chosen to receive your property.

Revocable Living Trust

You might consider incorporating a Revocable Living Trust as part of your estate plan to avoid the complexity, expense, and public nature of the probate process. When you have a revocable living trust, you can change the terms of your trust during your lifetime, and you fund the trust by changing the title of the assets, such as real estate, bank accounts, or investment accounts, to the name of the trust.

When you create a trust, you also designate a trustee to oversee, monitor, and distribute the trust assets after your death. The trustee must follow any terms of the trust that you have created in distributing your assets, such as requiring that your children not receive the assets until reaching a certain age or achieving a specific goal. The trust may also protect the beneficiaries’ inheritance from the reach of creditors in a divorce or bankruptcy.

Beneficiary Designations

Some assets, such as life insurance policies and retirement plans, allow you to name a beneficiary to receive those assets should you pass away. Assets with a named beneficiary do not go through probate, even if you have other assets that must go through probate. Therefore, you must ensure that you carefully choose your beneficiary designations for these accounts as part of your estate plan, and keep them updated, as your wishes and situation may change over time.

Durable Power of Attorney

A Florida Durable Power of Attorney is an essential estate and life planning document for all adults. Florida Statutes § 709.2101 et seq. outlines how a Durable Power of Attorney allows one person (the “principal”) to grant another person (the “agent”) the legal authority or power to handle their business, legal, and financial affairs. Some examples of the powers that often are specified in a Durable Power of Attorney include filing taxes, engaging in banking transactions, and buying or selling property. However, under Florida Statutes § 709.2202, some powers, such as modifying, revoking, or terminating a trust, must be specifically listed in a Durable Power of Attorney, and the principal must physically sign or initial each individual power for them to be legally valid.

Under Florida law, your durable power of attorney becomes valid immediately, in that it grants immediate power to the agent. Therefore, once the principal signs the Durable Power of Attorney, the Agent can immediately exercise those powers. The Power of Attorney is “durable,” in that it survives the principal’s disability or incapacitation.

Advance Healthcare Directives

Advance Healthcare Directives consist of a couple of different documents that help with decision making on medical care and related matters if you are unable to make or express those decisions for yourself.

Living Will

A living will allows you to make certain decisions about life-sustaining treatment that you may or may not want to receive if you are critically ill or injured and unable to make those decisions yourself. It allows you express your wishes so that your family members are not left to make these challenging decisions for you.

Designation of Healthcare Surrogate

In a Designation of Healthcare Surrogate document, you choose another individual to make medical decisions and consent to medical treatment on your behalf. A Designation of Healthcare Surrogate document often contains a HIPAA Designation, which also allows your Surrogate to access your medical records as needed.

Look to Kramer Green for Help with Your Estate Planning

A Florida estate planning lawyer at Kramer, Green, Zuckerman, Greene & Buchsbaum, P.A. can assist you with your estate plan, whether you are reviewing and updating an existing estate plan or creating an estate plan for the first time. We know how to structure your estate plan to preserve your assets and relieve your loved ones of the burdens of complex probate and estate issues to the greatest extent possible. We also have the skills needed to help you carry out your wishes for your estate.

We proudly serve Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Aventura, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale Beach, Miami, and the surrounding areas. Our objective is to guide you throughout the complex legal process of estate planning. Contact our office today at (954) 966-2112 or online to schedule a time to discuss your estate planning issues with our estate planning attorney.

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