A will is a written direction controlling those assets, which are in your name and not co-owned with another. Joint bank accounts, shares of stock with co-owners, real estate jointly owned with others, jointly owned brokerage accounts, life insurance and Individual Retirement Accounts with named beneficiaries are some of the assets not controlled by your will. Different sets of law govern the above assets. Florida law requires a written document signed at the end before two witnesses. The document may be self proving without requirement that the personal representative find the actual witnesses. Provisions in the will can be changed at any time by use of a codicil.


A powerful tool to use to avoid probate and the related expense and delay. Also, the use of marital and credit shelter trusts are crucial as they relate to estate taxes. Trusts also provide the privacy not available by probating your will in the courts. The “grantor” creates this trust and can change or revoke the trust at any time. He or she conveys the property to the trustee who handles the assets in accordance with the terms of the trust. Revocable Living Trusts are also a better way to protect your property rather than being jointly owned with your spouse of another individual. Jointly owned property with your spouse can waste the full use of both unified credits. Further, jointly owned property with another individual can make it subject to their creditors.


This type of trust cannot be changed once executed. It is one form of planning that can be funded with life insurance proceeds. This trust will avoid both probate and estate taxes. The assets of this trust can be used as a refunding tool to provide for your family, if you designate your property to a charitable trust for tax purposes. This is especially useful when a large portion of your assets consists of highly appreciated stock or jumbo retirement plans.


A document that expresses your desire to be allowed to pass away with out the use of extraordinary means by way of artificial machines to sustain your life, when turning off the machines would allow you to pass away peacefully. There is no agent or advocate designated. This document is included in your medical records and informs the physician and your family of your intention and desire.


Life insurance serves many purposes in small to medium-sized estates. Life insurance can be used to provide support for dependents, to fund burial and estate settlement costs, to pay off debt, to fund buy/sell agreements, to leverage gifts to charity, to pay death taxes and for a variety of other purposes.


The Durable Power of Attorney (DPA) offers an alternative to judicial guardianship-designation and conservatorship. The “attorney in fact” is named to act on the clients behalf in connection with personal, business financial or other health care matters. Authority granted typically includes the authority to take care of finances, estate and gift planning powers, and long term care planning. The DPA can become effective quickly and privately without need of court approval or supervision. It remains valid until revocation or until adjudged incompetent.


What you have accumulated can either go to your family, the IRS or charity. You can choose two. Gifting to charities can be of cash, insurance, appreciated properties or securities, the portion of an asset (bargained sale), pension plan interests, and gifts of “remainder interests”. Remainder interests include the more commonly used Charitable Remainder Trust and Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust. The financial benefits can include income, capital gains, gift and estate tax relief, among others.


A Family Limited Partnership is created with a limited partnership agreement and is used to reduce gift and estate taxes through discounting, split income to those in lower brackets, help others in family learn how to manage assets among other things. It is not recommended for those having simple estate plan needs or where the estate is largely comprised of securities.


Guardianship designation is a legal proceeding in the circuit court in which an individual or entity is appointed to exercise legal rights over the person and/or property of an incapacitated or minor ward. In selecting a guardian, the courts normally consider the wishes of the incapacitated person in a written declaration of a preneed guardian or at the hearing. The guardian must be represented by an attorney and has several ongoing reporting responsibilities before the court.  Guardianship designations can be costly and may not be a reflection of the incapacitated’s intent. Florida law does look to less restrictive means to protect the person and property of the incapacitated person. The various alternatives include health care surrogate, living will, durable power of attorney and revocable living trust prepared and executed prior to the individual losing capacity.


Medicaid-planning is a joint federal and state program available to fund medical services, including long-term care services. You may qualify for medicaid-planning assistance even if you own a home, a car and other property. Often individuals give away or “spend down” their estate in an attempt to qualify for medicaid-planning, but if this is not handled correctly, such efforts could actually disqualify them for coverage for months, even years. Proper planning can help you preserve your personal assets and qualify you for medicaid-planning to pay nursing home costs.

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