DON’T LEAVE MAJOR LIFE DECISIONS UP TO THE COURTS. TAKE HOLD OF YOUR FUTURE.
Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning
We provide a full range of estate planning services to help you protect your assets and preserve your legacy for future generations. We prepare Wills, Trusts, Health Care Surrogate Designations and Powers of Attorney.
We will work with you to make sure that your estate plan is specifically tailored to your needs
We provide assistance in all of the following areas:
- Preparing Wills
- Preparing Health Care Documents
- Preparing Powers of Attorney
- Establishing Revocable Living Trusts to avoid probate and protect financial decision-making
- Special Needs Planning for disabled individuals
- Planning to eliminate or reduce Estate Taxes
We spend time with our clients to discuss your goals and review your assets. It is helpful to make a list of assets in advance of our meeting to make the most of your consultation. In addition, you should check the value and beneficiary designations of life insurance and retirement accounts and bring that information to your meeting with us.
If you already have estate planning documents such as a Will, Trust or Power of Attorney, you should bring them with you for review. At the conclusion of the first consultation, we summarize our recommendations for your estate plan and advise you of the fee for the proposed legal work.
We then prepare drafts of the necessary documents, such as wills and trust agreements. We will send drafts of the documents for your review. The final step is to schedule a follow-up appointment for you to formally sign your documents.
Do I Need a Will?
Every adult who has assets, or may have any assets in the future, should have a Will to ensure that their property and savings will pass to individuals they choose. Every adult with minor children in their care should also have a Will in order to choose a guardian for their children if they die before the children reach age 18.
A Will allows you to direct how your property will be distributed after your lifetime. This includes not just real property, such as your home, but also all investments, bank accounts and other interests you may have.
A Will also allows you to name a personal representative (executor) who will manage and distribute your property immediately after your death, and to name trustees who may manage money for children or other individuals with special needs. A Will also permits you to nominate a guardian who will take care of your children if you die while they are under the age of 18.
If you die without a Will, Florida law determines who receives your property after your death.
A Will only controls assets in your name alone, and only those that do not have beneficiary designations. Retirement accounts and life insurance policies usually permit you to name beneficiaries. Those beneficiaries will inherit those assets, even if your Will states otherwise. These designations are very important, and we routinely review them with our clients to make sure they are accurate and up to date.
When Should I Review My Estate Plan?
You should review your Will and estate plan periodically and whenever your circumstances change.
For example, a change in your family situation, such as the birth of children or grandchildren, or marriage of adult children may require some fine tuning of your estate plan. If you are looking forward to a second marriage, it is important to consider your estate plan in advance of your marriage, especially if you or your fiancé have children from a prior relationship. A change in the size of your estate, i.e. the total value of your assets, can require further planning to avoid estate taxes.
Finally, changes in the laws that affect estates, and especially tax laws, may require changes in your estate plan. You should review it periodically to make sure your estate plan is up to date.
We periodically check in with our clients to ensure their estate plans are current.
Revocable Living Trusts
A trust is an entity that can hold and manage property in the trustee’s name, instead of your name. Revocable living trusts are a useful tool, both to ensure that someone you select will handle your finances if you become incompetent, and to avoid probate of your estate.
A revocable living trust is one which you establish during your lifetime. Since it is revocable, you can revoke or amend the trust at any time. The person you select to manage the assets in the trust is your trustee. You can be your own trustee, and you can also appoint a successor trustee who will handle the trust if you are no longer able to manage your own finances, or after your lifetime. After your lifetime, the assets in the trust pass to the individuals you designate without the requirement of probate or any court involvement.
For whom are living trusts most appropriate? What are the pros and cons?
Living trusts are useful estate planning tools, and they have an important place in many people’s estate plans. If you find any one of the following benefits appealing, then a living trust may be appropriate for you.
Benefit #1: No Probate. When a person dies, most properties pass either under a person’s Will or under a living trust. Some properties–such as life insurance, IRAs, and certain types of bank and brokerage accounts–pass directly to named beneficiaries. If property passes under a Will, then the Will must be probated at the courthouse. Probate entails hiring a lawyer, filing a number of papers with the court, attending one or more hearings, and providing a written inventory to the court valuing the properties which passed under the Will.
Some people don’t want this type of involvement with the court, so they opt for a living trust. By transferring all properties which would otherwise pass under your Will to a living trust, you can avoid the probate proceeding. For estates which owe no estate taxes, there is usually less work for the lawyers, and that translates into reduced estate administration costs.
Court involvement is not eliminated entirely however. Florida now requires the trustee of a living trust to file a notice of the trust with the appropriate court containing information about the person who created the trust and the trustee. Also, in certain circumstances, the trustee may be required to pay expenses of administering the decedent’s estate as well as the claims of creditors against the decedent’s estate.
Benefit #2: More Privacy. As mentioned above, when a person dies with a Will, an inventory must be filed with the court. You may not want your friends, neighbors, or the media to be able to read a listing of what you own and what it is worth. After all, an inventory is a public record. With a living trust, your properties and their values remain private.
Benefit #3: Plan For Future Incapacity. You may be worried that one day you won’t be able to manage your own finances, and you may want to name someone to handle these types of matters for you. You can address this potential problem with a power of attorney or with a living trust. A power of attorney will usually be accepted by banks, title companies and the like, but there is always the risk that an institution’s legal department will reject it. The same person who may be denied the ability to use a power of attorney will likely be allowed to do anything he or she wants when acting as trustee of a living trust.
Benefit #4: Harder to Challenge. If you are planning to disinherit one of your children or grandchildren, you may be better off with a living trust because there is nothing filed at the courthouse. Also, it is a little harder to contest a living trust than a Will. Many people are interested in doing as much as possible to prevent a successful challenge to their estate plan.
Benefit #5: Avoid Out-of-state Probate. If you own property in another state, you can avoid a costly probate proceeding in that state by transferring the property to a living trust.
Before you establish a living trust you need to understand the downsides, which include the following:
Disadvantage #1: Time-consuming to Set Up. Depending on how many different types of properties and accounts you own, it can take quite some time to switch everything over to the name of your living trust.
Disadvantage #2: Complicated. Wills are usually shorter and simpler to understand than living trusts. Also, with a Will, you can sign it and forget about it. But with a living trust, you need to put your property into the trust and run your life out of it for as long as you live. For many people, this downside outweighs all the potential benefits.
Disadvantage #3: Time-consuming to Revoke. A year after you set up the living trust, you may decide you don’t want it any more. At this point, you will need to return to every bank and brokerage house, and undo everything you had done to establish the trust. You can expect more lawyers’ fees too.
Disadvantage #4: Post-Death Costs Not Eliminated. If you have a taxable estate (which is generally an estate over $5,450,000), there will be a lot of work to be done after death regardless of whether probate is required. Typically, there are tax returns to file, trusts to establish, assets to value, and more. Avoiding probate will only marginally reduce the cost of administering a taxable estate.
Disadvantage #5: May Still Need to Probate Will. If you leave just one bank account or one piece of real estate out of the trust, probate will still be necessary. And probate takes about as long when there is one asset as when there are twenty.