Is your Last Will and Testament current? A Last Will and Testament is a basic part of your estate plan. Every adult should have a will. Your Last Will and Testament serves three main functions: (1) Your will directs the payment of valid debts and expenses; (2) It passes ownership of your probate assets to the persons named in your will; and (3) It designates a Personal Representative to oversee the administration of your estate.
Knowing When to Update Your Will
From time to time you should review the beneficiaries named in your will, as well as the persons named to serve as Personal Representative. Changes in their lives, as well as yours, might require changes to your will. Significant life events such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child or grandchild, or the death of a loved one could impact your plan. Also, changes in value, such as real property values and investment account values, could require a change in your plan if you leave specific assets to specific beneficiaries, or specific dollar amounts based upon the total value of your assets.
New Residents Should Have Their Wills Reviewed
Florida law can be significantly different than the law in other states. Attorneys in other states may not be familiar with unique features of Florida law, such as the homestead protections for surviving spouses and minor children, the surviving spouse's right to claim an elective share in the deceased spouse's estate, and the special requirements for serving as a personal representative.
Consider How a Second Marriage Affects Your Situation
Because Florida law provides special protections for surviving spouses, special planning is required to make sure your wishes are carried out if you want to provide for children from a prior marriage. To override the protections for Florida spouses under Florida law, it may be necessary to enter into a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. This does add some additional cost to your planning, but can save your loved ones from litigation costs after you pass and, perhaps more importantly, insure that your intentions are clear and enforceable.
Decide How Your Assets Should Be Distributed
Before you see an attorney about preparing a will, first consider what you have. Understand that the values of some assets will fluctuate. Make a list of your assets, the current value, and the amount of any debt secured by that asset (such as a mortgage or car loan). Once you know what you have, think about who you would like to provide for (the beneficiaries of your estate). You can provide gifts of specific assets, specific dollar amounts, or a percentage of the estate balance. Next, think about what happens if a beneficiary does not survive you. Should the gift go to the beneficiary's children, spouse, someone else, or to the other beneficiaries?
Consider the Impact of Debt
Your planning should include a careful review of your debts, such as medical bills, credit card balances, mortgages and car loans. Before assets are distributed to beneficiaries, valid debts and probate expenses must be paid. Some debts, like mortgages, are considered secured debt, and become the responsibility of the person receiving the particular asset that is subject to the debt, unless your will directs the estate to pay the mortgage or other secured debt. If you have significant debt, you might consider working with an insurance professional to add life insurance to your plan.
Don't Forget About Non-Probate Assets
Some assets, such as life insurance, IRA's, 401k's, CD's, checking accounts, and annuities can designate beneficiaries to receive the asset after you pass away. It is just as important to review the beneficiary designations on these assets as it is to review your will. Proper beneficiary designations can keep these assets out of probate. With proper beneficiary desigantions, the funds pass directly to the beneficiary upon your death. Don't rely upon your memory. Get a copy of the form or document that shows how you have designated beneficiaries on these types of assets. Keep a copy with your will so they can be reviewed regularly. Some assets, such as IRA's and 401k's, can have significant income tax obligations that can be affected by the proper designation of beneficiaries. You should obtain written confirmation of the beneficairy designations and review them with your attorney, tax advisor or financial planner.
Choose Good People to Handle Your Estate.
Choosing a personal representative to handle your estate is an important choice. In Florida the personal representative must be (1) over 18 years of age; (2) of sound mind; (3) either a Florida resident or closely related to you by blood (or through marriage to a person who is living when you die); and (4) have no felony convictions. The personal representative must be willing to gather up your assets, pay the valid debts and expenses, and then distribute the rest to the beneficiaries. Special considerations are required if you have minor children or beneficiaries who need to have their share of the estate managed for them. Gifts to beneficiaries who are or may be entitled to government assistance based upon financial need should also be managed carefully.
Seek Professional Tax Advice
The impact of taxes can be significant. Your plan should take into account the impact of gift taxes, generation-skipping taxes, estate taxes, income taxes, and real property ad valorem taxes. Special planning is needed if you or your spouse are not a permanent U.S. resident or citizen. In some situations, the savings resulting from the coordination of your estate planning and tax planning can be tremendous. If you have other concerns that outweigh your concern about taxes, you should discuss that with all of your professional planners so they can take your wishes into account.
Seek Professional Legal Advice
Today there are companies that advertise their products as "legally valid in all states" and claim that you can "do it yourself without the high cost of a lawyer". Only a licensed attorney can give legal advice about the laws of the state where you live. Many attorneys offer wills at a cost lower than their other legal services, hoping to help clients avoid future problems. An experienced attorney can take your unique circumstances into account and help you avoid problems that software or online forms just can't anticipate. In most cases, the initial cost of professional legal advice is far less than the cost of legal services to correct a problem after you pass away.
Our Rating is calculated using information the lawyer has included on their profile in addition to the information we collect from state bar associations and other organizations that license legal professionals. Attorneys who claim their profiles and provide Avvo with more information tend to have a higher rating than those who do not.
What determines Avvo Rating?
Experience & background
Years licensed, work experience, education
Legal community recognition
Peer endorsements, associations, awards
Legal thought leadership
Publications, speaking engagements
This lawyer was disciplined by a state licensing authority in .
Disciplinary information may not be comprehensive, or updated. We recommend that you always check a lawyer's disciplinary status with their respective state bar association before hiring them.