When many people think of estate planning, they tend to think of a will that directs who their assets will be handled after they pass away. While a will is certainly an effective planning tool that is appropriate to use in many situations, there are many other legal tools available in estate planning that can protect assets, minimize tax liability, and potentially avoid the costs associated with the probate process. Some of the more common ways in which an experienced Estate lawyer can help create a comprehensive and effective estate plan are detailed below. For more information or answers to specific questions, call an estate planning attorney that practices law in your state.

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Wills

A will is a written direction controlling the disposition of property at death. In Florida, thee testator (the person who created the will) must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind at the time the will is signed.  The will must be written and witnessed and notarized in the special manner provided by law for wills.  It is necessary to follow exactly the formalities required by Florida law for the execution of a will.

A will becomes final after the death of the testator, and it may be changed or added to by the testator by drawing a new will or by a “codicil,” which is simply a separately written addition or amendment executed with the same formalities as a will. A will’s terms cannot be changed by writing something in or crossing something out after the will is executed. In fact, writing on the will after its execution may invalidate part of the will or all of it.

Revocable Trusts

A revocable trust is a document (the “trust agreement”) created by you to manage your assets during your lifetime and distribute the remaining assets after your death.  Trusts are effective estate planning tools because they can help establish eligibility for certain government programs, protect assets from creditors, and avoid having your assets go through probate before they are transferred to your beneficiaries.

Advance Directives

An advance directive, also often called a “living will,” is a document that details your wishes regarding medical care in the event that you become incapacitated. Despite being referred to as a type of will, they are in fact very different than actual wills in that they take effect during a person’s lifetime. An advance directive should be thoroughly reviewed by a lawyer in order to make sure that it is legally enforceable and adequately reflects your wishes.

Durable Powers of Attorney

A Power of Attorney terminates if the principal becomes incapacitated, unless it is a special kind of Power of Attorney known as a “Durable Power of Attorney.” A Durable Power of Attorney remains effective even if a person becomes incapacitated. However, there are certain exceptions specified in Florida law when a Durable Power of Attorney may not be used for an incapacitated principal. A Durable Power of Attorney must contain special wording that provides the power survives the incapacity of the principal. Most Powers of Attorney granted today are durable.

People at any stage of life can benefit from implementing a comprehensive estate plan. To get started on yours, give us a call today.