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Will and Estate Planning Attorneys Serving Florida’s Treasure Coast

Will & Estate Planning

Everybody needs a will and an estate plan. They are not just for the wealthy. Without a will, upon your death your assets will be distributed under the terms of state law, likely in a manner contrary to your desires.

Understanding Will Terms

There are several distinct words associated with wills and the related branch of law, many of which may not be familiar to those who have not used them before. The following list is a quick overview of a few key legal terms:

Will: A legal document outlining how a person’s physical and monetary assets should be distributed after his or her death.

Trust: A legal document granting control of the wealth and other assets of one person, called a settler or grantor, to another party, called a trustee. The trustee can then distribute the assets in accordance with the guidelines of the trusts. Some trusts take effect after the person’s death, but others can be enacted and modified while the grantor is still alive.

Estate Planning: A general term describing the process of preparing assets to be distributed after death. This can encompass a will, a trust, or both, as well as health care directives.

Power of Attorney: Legal power given by the hiring party to an attorney, allowing allows him or her to handle some matters, oftentimes finances or the distribution of possessions.

Living Will: Formally called an advance healthcare directive, this document outlines how a person wants their medical treatment to be handled in the event that they are incapacitated or otherwise able to make the choice themselves.

Designation of Health Care Surrugate: The assignmet of a person who can make health care decisions for a third party in case they are unable to make those decision on their own.

Estate Planning

Proper estate planning protects your wealth and your family’s welfare while you live. A personalized and well-drafted estate plan can:

  • Protect your assets from creditors
  • Minimize estate tax
  • Reduce current income taxes
  • Protect family control of a private business
  • Fund gifts to charity on optimal terms
  • Provide for individual needs of family members
  • Provide for guardianship of minors
  • Maximize after-tax value of retirement accounts, insurance, and investments
  • Allocate wealth and personal assets as you desire upon your death

A complete estate plan also determines who will make important decisions — regarding such vital issues as your medical care and management of your investments on your behalf — if you are temporarily or permanently incapacitated.  No matter what your level of wealth, these decisions are critical to protecting you and your family’s personal welfare.

When creating your estate plan, it is important to consider what types of assets you have and whose name they are in. If they are in your name alone and you pass away without drafting a proper will, then the court will have no choice but to divide up your wealth. If you are married and have on children, everything will go directly to your spouse. If you are married with children, your spouse will receive a lump sum first and the rest will be divided between your spouse and children. If you have joint assets, ownership will transfer over to whoever else holds the assets with you. If you want your money and possessions to be divided up differently, it is critical to have a proper will or trust in place.

Understanding The Importance Of A Will

Depending on the exact circumstances, dying without a will, also called dying intestate, can potentially cause an expensive and tedious conflict. Florida state laws will handle the distribution of anything left behind, which often means that your possessions will end up in the hands of people who you didn’t want to have them. In a worst-case scenario, this can lead to arguing, fighting, and families dividing over simple allocation of money or property. Everyone needs a will. If you do not have a will or trust, you will end up at the mercy of Florida intestate law, which may interpret matters differently than you expect.

When your valuable assets are at stake and multiple people are claiming that they have a right to the same assets, your family may be in for a tedious and costly court battle. Much of the time, these battles become so expensive that they actually surpass the amount of money that was at stake in the first place. If you want to avoid such hardship for your family after your death, a last will and testament is the best way to handle your intentions.

In many cases, you will want to draft an estate plan even if you don’t have much in the way of assets. If you have small children, it is best to avoid giving your assets to the children directly while they are so young. Instead, arranging a trust will allow your assets to appreciate over time, giving your children time to grow and learn the proper way to manage them. Even those who have few assets at all can benefit from a will, as it will designate the people who you want to handle your affairs after you pass away.

No matter your estate size, we draft a personally tailored estate plan for you, customized to meet your and your family’s particular needs. Our attorneys do not blindly use the form documents many others utilize to draft standardized wills and documents, but instead carefully consider the unique circumstances of your situation to craft the best possible plan of wealth- and welfare-protection for you.

Gregory Keane is a Florida Bar Board Certified Tax Lawyer and a Board Certified Wills, Trusts and Estates Lawyer. Board Certification is the highest level of evaluation given by the Florida Bar for competency and experience in the areas approved by the Florida Supreme Court. This designation signifies that an attorney meets standards of competency and knowledge in certain areas of the law including professionalism and ethics in practice.

When you especially need help

You likely are in special need of estate planning assistance if you have:

  • Moved to Florida from another state — Wills, other legal documents and estate planning strategies adopted under the law of another state may conflict with Florida law and be invalid here.
  • Significant assets to protect from potential creditors — Liability lawsuits are always a risk to professionals who may be sued for malpractice, to contractors and to other kinds of business operators. A personalized estate plan can move assets beyond creditors’ reach.
  • An out-of-date will — If your will has not been revised periodically it may no longer reflect your personal and family circumstances.
  •  Families from multiple marriages — Complex law governs allocation of assets to members of more than one family, making it important to review your intentions with an estate planning attorney
  • Significant wealth — Newly enacted federal tax law requires tax strategies to be revised to minimize estate tax and other taxes.

Getting Started With A Will

Once you have decided to create a will or estate plan, it is time to consider the process itself, namely what assets you want to assign and who you want them to go to. During a legal consultation with an estate planning attorney, you may fill out a questionnaire or similar paperwork, or the attorney may simply chat with you to determine your thoughts and feelings. Many times, the attorney will allow you to choose which options and alternatives you feel more comfortable with.

Regardless of the approach, it should be your wants and needs that dictate the estate planning process, not the assets themselves. Your first planning session with an attorney should be a comfortable, open discussion of your goals for the will, your concerns, your questions, and what course of action will lead you to the best possible outcome. Even if you are not sure exactly what you want right off the bat, discuss these concerns with your attorney so that he or she can offer advice and help steer you toward the best plan. Many times, it isn’t until you actually sit through one of these sessions that you truly understand how you want your estate to be handled.

Once your will has been written and signed by you and your witnesses, it will enter a state of limbo until you pass away. Once this happens, your attorney must bring the will to the probate court, who will verify the will and appoint an executor to handle the distribution of the assets listed. Until this happens, the will is not a legal will, meaning that it is not valid without the probate court’s approval. In most scenarios, this is a straightforward process that will take only a week or two. As long as your will is clear and professionally written, you should have little trouble receiving court approval and getting your assets into the proper hands.

Quality, integrity and personalized legal service

For legal help regarding wills, estates, trusts, elder law or guardianship, call The Keane Law Firm, at 772-288-0000 or contact us online.

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