Many people think estate planning is only for the rich. The truth is that everybody already has an estate plan. The State of Florida knows that everybody dies, and everybody has belongings. They don't want your things lying around after you die, so they have already decided who will get them. To insure your belongings and property get distributed, the state also supervises the distribution through a process known as probate. Probate can take a long time, can be expensive and is public.
You can make it easy on those left behind, avoid the costs of probate, and keep the government out of your life (or, in this case, death) by developing your own, customized estate plan.
Wills - If you don't like the plan the state has developed for you, you can develop your own plan. You do this by writing a will. In this case you, rather than the state, decide who gets your belongings. Even if you have a will, however, the state will still supervise the distribution through the probate process. There are very strict rules governing the execution of a will. It is important to have competent legal advice and assistance when executing a will to insure it is valid.
Trusts - You can develop your own plan and avoid probate by establishing a Revocable Living Trust. In this case, you appoint a trustee to supervise the distribution of your property rather than having the probate court do it. The process is private, quick, and much less expensive than probate. There are several additional benefits of a trust. Besides avoiding probate, property in the trust is protected from creditors of the beneficiaries. It is also protected from a beneficiary's divorce settlement. Finally, as the name implies, it is revocable. It can be changed or amended and property can be put into it and taken out of it at any time.
Advance Directives - It is also important to designate someone to make financial and healthcare decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for yourself. You do this by executing a Financial Power of Attorney, Heath Care Surrogate Designation, and Living Will. If you neglect to appoint an agent to make these decisions, someone will have to petition the court to appoint someone to control your assets and make medical decisions for you. This is an expensive and unwanted burden in a time of stress.