Have you decided that the New Year is a good time to think about your Florida estate planning strategies? Have you thought about strategies to avoid Florida probate? Or do you trust that your Florida last will and testament is sufficient to bypass the probate process? Unfortunately, that is a common misconception. If you want to be confident of a smooth and efficient transfer of assets at the time of your passing, you should probably consider alternatives, such as a trust agreement.
To begin, you need to understand the limits of a will-based Florida estate plan. There is no doubt that a last will and testament is the basic foundation of estate planning. Your will enables you to outline your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets and the care of any minor children you may have. However, by itself, a will does not avoid probate.
In talking about probate, what exactly is it? In Florida, probate is the legal process through which a deceased person’s will is validated and their estate is administered. At the beginning of the probate process, creditors who are known are contacted and heirs are informed of what will happen under the will. You should know that the probate process can be time-consuming, expensive, and public, which is why many individuals work to find ways to avoid or minimize it.
So, one step you could use in order for your estate to avoid probate would be a trust. What exactly is a trust? A trust is a legal arrangement where assets are held by a third party, the trustee, for the benefit of others, often the beneficiaries. The key advantage of a trust is that assets within a trust are not subject to probate. This means they can be distributed to beneficiaries without the delays and costs associated with the probate process.
Now there are various types of trusts, but they generally fall into two categories: revocable and irrevocable. What is the difference? A revocable trust allows you to retain control over the assets during your lifetime and make changes as needed. However, an irrevocable trust, once established, in most circumstances, cannot be altered, offering potential tax benefits and protection against creditors. With that being said, this is something we highly recommend that you discuss with your experienced Florida estate planning attorney to obtain their guidance and discuss the use of both of these types of trusts to reach your goals.
Be aware, when you create a trust agreement, that is only the first step. In order for the trust to be effective, it must be properly funded. What does that mean? It means transferring assets such as real estate, bank accounts, and investments into the trust agreement. Be mindful, failure to fund the trust adequately can result in those assets going through probate, defeating the purpose of the trust.
Deciding to create a do-it-yourself trust agreement and estate planning is definitely not recommended. These documents involve working through complex issues; therefore, it is crucial that you take the time to work with an experienced Florida estate planning attorney. Your attorney will provide advice tailored to your unique circumstances, help you understand the different types of trusts available, and be sure that your trust is properly structured and funded so your goals can be reached.
In conclusion, while a last will and testament is a critical document, it alone does not avoid probate. Instead, a well-structured and adequately funded trust agreement can provide a more efficient and private transfer of assets. As you take steps in the New Year to review and update your estate planning strategy with an experienced Florida estate planning attorney, you can be assured that your future and the future of your family is secure.
We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. Our estate planning law firm takes a very different approach from what you might have come to expect. Our goal is to create lifelong relationships with each of our clients, to guide and manage your legacy for the rest of your life. Please contact our offices in Stuart and in Palm City to learn more.