Assisting Families With Will Document Preparations and Execution
If an estate plan is like a car, then a will is the engine which makes it run. However, will-related documents can be extremely complex. If you are considering drafting a will, turn to an knowledgeable Boca Raton will attorney at Ellis Law Group.
Wills are just one of many different estate planning tools we prepare. Our attorneys have decades of combined experience helping individuals and families with their estate planning needs. We draft wills that are clear, complete, and seamlessly integrated with other parts of a comprehensive estate plan, such as a revocable (living) trust.
When you meet with us to discuss your estate planning needs, we take the time to truly understand your circumstances, concerns, and goals. That is the foundation upon which we craft personally-tailored wills and holistic estate plans best suited to accomplish your specific goals.
What Is a Will and Why You Should Have One?
In the absence of a will, Florida law provides default rules that dictate which family members receive a decedent’s property. A will is one of several documents that provide individuals with control over the disposition of their assets. In addition, a will allows you to appoint a trusted individual, known as a personal representative, to shepherd the estate administration process. In addition, your will can also be used to nominate one or more individuals to serve as guardian of your minor children in the event of the passing of both parents. Wills make things easier for your loved ones while they are coping with the grief and practical challenges of loss.
Without a Will, Things May Not Go the Way You Want
If you die without a will in Florida, you won’t have a say in who will get your property upon your death. Instead, most of your property will be distributed according to Florida’s intestate succession laws. However certain property, that requires the names of beneficiaries at their inception, will be distributed based on that designation. These documents can include life insurance policies, certain securities, and 401(k)s, IRAs, and other pension plans.
Everything outside these specialized assets and property will become part of the probate estate after you die without a will, and the probate court judge will look to Florida law to determine how to distribute those assets. Distribution is directly dependent on who your living (and identifiable) family members are at the time of your death.
While there can be many nuances to intestate succession laws, especially in instances such as blended families or relatives who can’t be located, the fundamentals of Florida law are as follows:
|Family Members Upon Death||How Assets Are Distributed|
|Spouse but no children||Spouse gets everything|
|Children but no spouse||Children get everything, divided equally|
|Spouse and children||Spouse gets everything|
|Spouse and kids, plus spouse’s kids||Spouse gets half; your kids get half|
|From prior marriage|
|Parents but no spouse or kids||Parents get everything|
|Siblings but no spouse, parents, or kids||Siblings get everything, divided equally|
Beyond these “nuclear family” relationships, the probate court will look for grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, and other distant relatives to distribute your property. If no relatives can be found, your property will “escheat,” or become the property of the state of Florida.
Intestate succession laws may not reflect how you want your assets distributed and can result in conflict between family members. Put simply, most people would prefer to maintain direction over the disposition of their property. Crafting the right will is an integral step in maintaining this control, and best left to an experienced Boca Raton will attorney.
Do I Need a Will and a Trust?
Many people who have wills also have revocable living trusts as part of their estate plan. Since revocable trusts address many of the same issues that wills do, most notably property distribution, it may seem redundant or unnecessary to have a will if you already have a trust. However, the reality is that a will is a crucial adjunct to a revocable trust and can be a vital backstop to ensure that any assets that somehow are not included in your trust are distributed according to your wishes.
A living trust allows you to identify specific assets (real property, stocks, money, etc.) that are transferred to a trust. Upon your death, the trust assets won’t have to go through probate (the court process of officially recognizing transfers of ownership upon death) and remain private. After you pass away, the assets are managed and distributed per your wishes as outlined in the trust documents.
Key to note is what happens to assets and property you acquire after the trust is set up. Whenever you acquire new assets, whether a new car, a vacation home, or even a new insurance policy; after you execute your trust documents these assets need to be transferred (or initially purchased by) the trust. This is the only way to provide them with trust protection and ensure distribution in accordance with your wishes.
If you pass away without transferring those newly acquired assets to your trust, it is likely that they will be distributed under Florida’s laws of intestate succession, which may or may not reflect your actual wishes as set forth in your trust. This is where “pour-over” wills comes into play. In a “pour-over” will, you can direct all assets in your name that weren’t placed in the trust while you were alive to be “poured-over” into the trust upon your death. It is essentially a broad, catch-all provision that addresses the distribution of any and all assets not held by the trust or otherwise not specifically addressed in the will or any other estate planning documents. A pour-over will ensures that your assets wind up in your revocable living trust to be distributed with your other trust assets. . A pour-over will is a vital accompaniment to any revocable living trust.
New Florida Residents With Out-of-State Wills
Florida, and the greater Boca Raton area in particular, is a known destination for retirees, families, and others who have spent a great portion of their lives in another state or country. Many of these individuals move here with estate plans, including wills, that are based upon the laws and rules in their former home states.
Wills that are valid under the laws of their origin state, will be deemed valid and recognized under Florida law. However, if you are a resident of Florida when you die, Florida law will apply to the administration of your will, which could lead to issues in terms of validating the out of state will and inconsistencies between what you intended via the language in your will and what will actually occur.
That’s why it is a good idea to, at minimum, meet with a Boca Raton will attorney to discuss whether or not creating a new Florida will is advisable. At Ellis Law Group, we assist retirees and others who want to ensure that their new home in the Sunshine State does not adversely affect their existing estate planning. When necessary, we can prepare any documents and effectuate any changes to keep your estate plan up to date.
Don’t Rely on the Internet to Protect Your Family
The internet is a wonderful resource, full of useful (if not always accurate or reliable) information on a wide range of subjects. While it is possible to download wills and other estate planning documents online, those forms may not be appropriate for your circumstances, may not satisfy the requirements of your particular state’s laws, and may leave gaping holes in your estate plan. When that happens, the money you attempt to save with a DIY estate plan can look like a pittance compared to the costs in legal fees, family conflict, and lengthy litigation arising from an inadequate or unenforceable plan. Unlike a downloadable form, the estate plan crafted by the attorneys at Ellis Law Group is part of an interactive process in which you not only dictate what your goals will be, but you also have at your disposal seasoned attorneys who know how to best accomplish those goals. There is no substitute for this engaging and dynamic process.
The experienced Boca Raton will attorneys at Ellis Law Group know that estate planning isn’t about forms, algorithms, or computer programs. Estate planning is about your life and the future of your family. It is about having someone in your corner who understands you, your goals and who can design a personalized will and estate plan that covers all the bases and accomplishes exactly what you want.
The Difference Between a Last Will and Testament and a Living Will
It is important to distinguish between a last will and testament (“will”) and a different estate planning document known as a “living will.” While a last will and testament involves the control and disposition of assets, a living will addresses health care decisions which need to be made when the person who prepared the will becomes incapacitated and is in a permanent vegetative state with little or no chance of recovery. Living wills specify a person’s wishes regarding the kinds of “extraordinary measures” they do or do not want doctors to take regarding their care, such as use of a ventilator, or other life sustaining measures when death is imminent.
Contact an Experienced Boca Raton Will Attorney Today
Every Boca Raton will attorney at Ellis Law Group believes that everyone should benefit from the highest-quality representation for the most important issues of their life. That is why we offer an array of engagement arrangements which include hourly representation with no out-of-pocket or up-front costs or representation on a contingency fee basis. Regardless, every client of the firm receives the same level of commitment and service and reaps the benefits of our experience, knowledge, and estate law acumen.
If you have questions about wills or estate planning or are ready to take steps to provide you and your family with security and peace of mind, we invite you to contact our firm to learn more about how we can help you. Please call us today at 561-910-7500 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.