Estate Planning & Probate Lawyers
Not all of us consider our own mortality or the possibility of becoming incapacitated. This is often the exact reason why many families are caught off-guard when incapacity or death happens. Estate planning can help families prepare for such situations and ensure their assets are properly taken care of.
A person’s estate consists of everything they own: their home, their car, bank accounts, investments, life insurance, furniture, personal possessions, and other items. No matter how modest or extensive a person’s estate, one thing is for sure — we can’t take any of it with us.
Estate planning is the process by which we leave instructions regarding what will happen to our estate assets in the event we pass away or become incapacitated. When done properly, estate planning can ensure our loved ones are taken care of. Estate planning tools like wills and trusts also help property to be distributed with the least amount of taxes, fees, and court costs.
As you can imagine, estate planning can be a complex endeavor that requires the help of an attorney. At Osborne & Francis, we place the highest priority on our client’s future and peace of mind. We have the experience and resources to ensure that your estate is fully prepared with a solid plan for the future under Florida laws. Contact us at (561) 293-2600 if you need assistance with or have any disputes regarding your estate.
Without a proper estate plan in place, your assets may have to pass through the state-mandated probate process, which doesn’t always yield the exact results you may have wanted for your family. Read on to learn how you can avoid probate and record your exact intentions and decisions.
What Is the Estate Planning Process?
Creating a Will
The most basic and well-known aspect of the estate planning process is the will. A will is a legal document that contains specific instructions about how a person’s estate should be distributed when they die. It also names a person who will be responsible for overseeing and distributing the estate property.
For most people, the first and most important step in the estate planning process is to hire a lawyer to help them write their will. Usually, people may become concerned about drafting a will after they buy their first home or have their first child.
Wills have specific requirements in order to be considered legal. Though there may be some variation, will requirements typically include:
- Must be in writing
- The person forming the will must be legally competent
- Must be signed by the testator (will creator)
- Must be signed by and in the presence of two witnesses (ideally, not beneficiaries)
A qualified lawyer with experience in estate planning matters can assist you with these requirements and can help you formulate the ideal estate plan for your needs. They will take into consideration various factors, such as:
- Your life stage and family members
- Your total financial assets
- Whatever long-term goals you have for you and your family
- The specific estate laws of your state
The Probate Process
If a person dies without a valid will in place, they are said to have died “intestate.” When this happens, their estate will be distributed according to state probate laws. Specifically, the property will be distributed according to “intestate succession” principles.
This means that there will be a specific order in which the surviving relatives can claim property. For instance, the property will first be distributed to the deceased person’s spouse and children, then close relatives, etc.
As mentioned, this may not always yield a distribution of property and assets that the person may have wanted. It is much more ideal to be ready with a will in place in case something happens.
What Are Trusts?
Trusts are another type of estate planning tool that a person can use to manage their estate. A trust is a mechanism that allows property to be held (i.e., held “in trust”) before it is distributed to the intended recipient (the “beneficiary”).
In terms of estate planning, a trust allows the estate holder to make very specific instructions regarding when and how the property will be distributed. It can also outline the person’s wishes regarding guardians for minor children, and burial, cremation, or memorial service instructions.
A common example is where the estate holder transfers money into a trust, which will be distributed to their child when certain conditions are met (such as when the child finishes college).
There are many different types of trusts. The main types are:
This type of trust cannot be modified, amended, or terminated without the beneficiaries’ permission. This is useful in situations where the distribution is somewhat set and not subject to anticipated changes. These are usually best later in life and for tax liability and asset protection purposes.
Revocable living trust
This is a type of trust that the grantor (estate holder) can modify throughout the course of their life. They can make the modifications without the permission of the beneficiaries. Benefits of revocable trusts include avoiding probate, and providing care for minor children. A downside is that creditors can sometimes go after assets in such a trust.
Whether an individual requires both a will and a trust or just a will depends on their situation. A will is still required with a trust because trusts deal with specific assets such as life insurance or a piece of property, but not the sum total of your holdings. Trusts are generally beneficial for those dealing with or anticipating tax or family issues, or if they have a large amount of real property or securities.
What Are Some Examples of Estate Planning?
Most estate plans involve the use of wills and trusts to manage the distribution of a person’s estate. However, in addition to these two tools, estate planning can also address other aspects about a person’s life, including:
- How you wish to obtain medical treatment in the event you are incapacitated (for instance, due to a car accident) and can’t decide or speak for yourself
- Whether you will become an organ donor upon passing away
- Which persons are authorized to make legal or financial decisions for you if you become incapacitated (“power of attorney”)
- Who is authorized to care for your minor children if you are unable to do so
- Who will take over your business operations or interests
- Decisions regarding your funeral arrangements and final resting instructions
A clear estate plan can help reduce confusion and provide clarity about your wishes, providing you and your family with assurance about the future.
What Is a Will Contest or Will Dispute?
A will contest or a will dispute occurs when someone takes issue with a valid will and challenges one of the distribution provisions it contains. In many cases, this dispute originates from one or more of the named beneficiaries. In other cases, the dispute could involve someone who was left out of the will (i.e., they might claim they were entitled to inherit a certain item).
A common example of a will dispute is when two beneficiaries claim that they are entitled to the same piece of property mentioned in a will. For instance, suppose the testator listed in their will, “I leave my favorite watch to my daughter.” Well, if they have two daughters, this might result in a will dispute if the specific person isn’t clearly named. In such cases, further legal action may be required to determine exactly what the testator intended regarding their property.
Thus, one of the main sources of such contests is when a will is written in a way that is vague or unspecific. While a lawyer isn’t always required by law to create a valid will, working with a lawyer helps tremendously in avoiding potential will disputes.
How Can I Contact an Estate Planning & Probate Lawyer?
Don’t let the courts decide how your property will be distributed in the event of your death or incapacitation — take matters into your own hands and work with a lawyer to lay down the ideal estate plan for your future.
Knowing that you have a well-thought-out estate plan in place will give you peace of mind and protect your family from legal conflicts. Estate planning is perhaps one of the most considerate and thoughtful actions you can take for your loved ones and their future.
If you need assistance creating an estate plan, you need a lawyer who has the experience and foresight to anticipate situations that might arise in your future. Contact the estate planning lawyers at Osborne & Francis at (561) 293-2600 for a free consultation to determine your legal rights and options. We can help ensure your estate goals are met and your family is prepared for the future.
Estate Planning & Probate Lawyers — FAQs
There are several benefits to having a clear estate plan for you and your loved ones in the event that you pass away or become incapacitated. An estate plan can result in:
- Clear, precise instructions about the way you want your property distributed
- Lower taxes and fees imposed on your family after your death
- Less stress and worry for your loved ones and family
Having an estate plan in place before it’s too late can help you, the estate holder, enjoy life in a more peaceful and relaxed way, knowing that your loved ones will be provided for in exactly the way you want to.
If a person dies without a will, their estate will be subject to the state probate court process. This process can result in a distribution of property that doesn’t fully match your original intentions or desires.
Also, not having an estate plan can leave your family vulnerable to contests and disputes regarding the way the estate assets are to be distributed.
There may be fees associated with creating a trust. These, however, can depend on several factors, including:
- The nature of the trust
- The value of the property or assets involved
- State laws
- Local rates for court forms and documents
Hiring a lawyer can help minimize the time and resources spent on creating a trust, since a lawyer will know the most efficient and effective way to accomplish your estate planning goals. Contact Osborne & Francis at (561) 293-2600 if you have questions or need guidance about a trust.
There are several factors that must be considered when mapping out your estate plan. Four highly important factors to consider are:
- Your life stage and family members
- Your total financial assets
- Whatever long-term goals you have for you and your loved ones
- The specific estate laws of your state
Wills and trusts are the main tools used in creating a strong estate plan. A lawyer can help you strategize a comprehensive plan for your estate and your family.
“Dennis and the other Osborne & Francis staff were amazing! Our case was HUGE and required tender loving care. Everyone on our case did their part by putting all the puzzle pieces together. We were given step-by-step updates and put at ease when our nerves got the best of us. For every inquiry we made we received a timely response.”
- E. Holland
“I couldn’t have asked for a better lawyer/ firm — everything was done professionally exactly how I wanted. Due to COVID my personal attorney Mr. Garcia was still able to make things work in a timely manner and he never made me feel like he wasn’t working. Overall I’m happy with how my case turned out and I would recommend him and this law firm to anyone. 100% satisfied.”