Your estate plan is a collection of legal documents which control who receives your property, who raises your children, and who manages your financial or medical decisions when you have lost the capacity to do so yourself. Your estate consists of everything you own, including real estate, investments, business interests, insurance policies and personal property.
Your Will (or Last Will and Testament), controls how your property is divided and managed after your death. This same document names a guardian for your children and your pets. Your Will may include a Trust, either to avoid going through probate court, to protect a beneficiary from future creditors, to provide for a family member with special needs without disrupting their government benefits, or to manage your business interests.
Why is this important? Without a Will, then Florida law dictates who will receive your property. You cannot control who receives specific items or how your estate is divided. The Courts will also decide who will manage your estate and who will raise your children. Wouldn’t you rather decide this for yourself?
Your Advanced Directives tell your family what to do if you become incapacitated or can no longer care for yourself. You control who will make your medical decisions and financial decisions, and whether you want life supporting treatment, such as a respirator if you can’t breathe on your own.
Why is this important? Many people lose the ability to make certain decisions as they age. Sometimes this is the result of an accident which has left a person impaired; oftentimes this is the result of Alzheimer’s or a related form of dementia. You should have a plan in place that names someone you trust to make decisions for you when you are unable to make them yourself.
Most people assume their family will know their wishes. Unfortunately, this leaves family members arguing amongst themselves or second guessing their decisions about your care and property. Having a plan eliminates this additional stress on your loved ones.
So where do you go from here? We’ve outlined the 4 basic steps necessary for your estate plan.
Step 1: Identify everything you own. Include bank accounts, investments, retirement accounts, real estate, business interests, insurance policies, personal property, such as your grandmother’s wedding ring or your father’s gun collection, debts, and your digital assets, such as passwords and accounts.
Step 2: Determine your beneficiaries, administrators, and caregivers. Consider who you want to manage your estate. These persons will be your Personal Representative or Trustee. Consider who you want to pass things on to. These persons are your beneficiaries. Consider who you want to care for you. These persons are your Health Care Surrogates.
Step 3: Create a plan. Meet with an attorney who practices estate planning to determine what set of documents will best achieve your goal. This may include a simple Will or complex trust provisions. An experienced attorney will help guide you through the process.
Step 4: Keep your plan updated. It is important for every person to update their estate plan as things change, such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child. For example, after divorce, you should change your estate so your ex-spouse is not making your healthcare decisions or does not receive a windfall that you would rather see go to your children.
Our office handles most estate plans on a flat fee basis and offers free estate planning consultations. If you would like to speak with Rachel Borntreger about your estate planning options, contact our office at (850) 694-1411 or email email@example.com to schedule your initial consultation.