In Florida, wills and trusts are two common legal instruments used in estate planning to ensure the distribution of assets and the management of one’s estate according to their wishes. Here’s a brief explanation of wills and trusts in Florida:
- Definition: A will, also known as a last will and testament, is a legal document that outlines how a person’s assets and properties will be distributed after their death.
- Requirements: To create a valid will in Florida, the person making the will (testator) must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. The will must be in writing, signed by the testator, and witnessed by two witnesses who are not beneficiaries or spouses of beneficiaries.
- Executor: In a will, the testator appoints an executor who will be responsible for administering the estate, paying debts, and distributing assets according to the terms of the will.
- Probate: Wills generally go through the probate process, which is a court-supervised procedure to validate the will and oversee the distribution of assets.
- Definition: A trust is a legal arrangement where a person (grantor or settlor) transfers their assets to a trustee, who manages the assets for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries.
- Types of Trusts: Florida recognizes various types of trusts, including revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, testamentary trusts (created by will), and special needs trusts, among others.
- Funding a Trust: To create a trust, the grantor transfers assets into the trust, which becomes separate from their personal estate. The grantor can specify how the assets should be managed and distributed.
- Avoiding Probate: One of the primary advantages of trusts is that they can help avoid or minimize the probate process. Assets held in a trust generally pass directly to beneficiaries without court intervention.
- Trustee: A trustee is responsible for managing the trust assets and ensuring they are distributed according to the trust’s terms. The grantor can serve as the initial trustee and appoint a successor trustee to take over when necessary.
YOU SHOULD ALSO PREPARE LETTER OF LAST INSTRUCTIONS
Those who administer an estate and take care of what is left often find themselves without necessary information. To facilitate their job, it is advisable to give your executor, executrix, personal representative or attorney a letter of last instructions – which is separate and apart from your Will. This letter, to be opened upon your death, should contain the following:
- Names and addresses of those to be notified at death, and relationship of members of family and relatives.
- Statement as to where your Will may be found.
- Instructions as to funeral and burial. You may Wish to specify, for example, that, as a Veteran you want to be buried in a national cemetery.
- Where your birth or baptismal certificate, certificate of auto ownership, social security card, marriage or divorce certificate, naturalization and citizenship papers, and discharge papers from the armed forces may be found.
- Where your membership certificates in any lodge or fraternal organizations which provides death or cemetery benefits may be found.
- Location of any safe deposit boxes you may have, and where keys are kept.
- A list of your insurance policies and where they may be found.
- A list of all bank accounts, checking and saving; their location and where the passbooks are kept.
- A list of all other savings accounts; for example, credit union deposits, etc., and passbook locations.
- A statement concerning any trusts and/or pension systems from which your estate may be entitled to receive benefits.
- A list of all stocks and bonds or other securities you own, and where they may be found.
- A statement of all real property owned by you with the location of deeds, mortgages, abstracts, and insurance policies for real property owned.
- A location of copies of income tax returns for previous 5 years.
- Receipted bills and canceled checks for last 5 years.
- List of debts and names of creditors – with addresses.
- A statement of reasons for actions taken in your Will, such as disinheritances. It is usually better to place the explanation in a separate but accompanying letter, rather than in your Will, to avoid a complicated will and expensive litigation.
- List of any gifts made and information needed for estate tax.
- A list of any payments made, especially for funeral expenses.
It’s important to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney in Florida to understand the specific laws and requirements pertaining to wills and trusts, as they can vary and may be subject to updates or changes. Estate planning is a complex matter, and professional guidance can ensure your intentions are properly documented and executed.