If you are new to the concept of estate planning, the entire process probably seems a little overwhelming. The components that make up your estate plan will likely represent the most important set of legal documents you execute over the course of your life, which only makes estate planning more intimidating for many people. Along with the need to make potentially life-altering decisions, you will also need to work with estate planning tools and strategies that are unfamiliar to you. To help take some of the apprehension and mystery out of first-time estate planning, the wills, trusts and estates attorneys at Kulas & Crawford put together a brief beginner’s guide.
What Is Estate Planning?
When most people think about the creation of an estate plan they think only of the need to execute a Last Will and Testament to ensure that their estate is distributed pursuant to their wishes after death. While that is certainly one aspect of estate planning, a well thought out and comprehensive estate plan does much more as well. Estate planning also uses tools and strategies that protect your assets and help them grow while you are alive. An estate plan can also protect you and your loved ones if you become incapacitated, as well as help ensure that you are prepared for retirement, including preparing for the high cost of long-term care. Ensuring that your wishes are honored at the end of your life and after your death is something else that an estate plan can do for you along with making sure your surviving loved ones are sufficiently provided for in your absence. As you can see, your estate plan can accomplish quite a bit, which is why care must be taken in the creation of that plan.
Estate Planning Tools and Strategies
With a better understanding of all that an estate plan can accomplish, it becomes apparent that a variety of tools and strategies will be needed to achieve everything an estate plan can accomplish. The tools and strategies that you decide to incorporate into your estate plan will be chosen by you and your estate planning attorney based on your unique needs and goals. Some of the most common of those tools, however, include:
- Last Will and Testament — A Last Will and Testament is a legal document that communicates your final wishes pertaining to possessions and dependents. Your Will allows you to make both specific and general gifts. Your Will is also where you will appoint someone to be the Executor of your estate. Your Executor plays a vital role in the probate of your estate after your death. Finally, a Will provides you with the only official opportunity you will have to nominate a Guardian for your minor children in the event one is ever needed after you are gone. One of the most important benefits to executing a Will is that it ensures your estate will not be administered using the state’s intestate succession laws which distribute a decedent’s estate to legal heirs according to priority.
- Trust – Testamentary or Living – a trust agreement creates a relationship whereby property is held by one party for the benefit of another. A trust is created by a Settlor (also referred to as a Maker or Grantor), who transfers property to a Trustee. The Trustee holds that property for the trust’s beneficiaries. All trusts are first divided into one of two categories – testamentary or inter vivos – the latter of which is more commonly referred to as a living trust. A testamentary trust is a trust that arises upon the death of the Settlor and which is typically activated by a provision in the Settlor’s Will. A living trust is a trust that takes effect as soon as all the legalities of creation are in place. Living trusts can be further divided into revocable or irrevocable living trusts.
- Advanced Directive — this is a written statement of a person’s wishes regarding medical treatment that is created and executed to ensure those wishes are carried out should the person be unable to communicate them to a doctor. Because advance directives are predominantly governed by state law, the type of advance directives that are recognized, the decisions that can be made, and the language necessary to create an advance directive can vary slightly from state to state. The State of Florida recognizes two types of advance directives. A Florida Designation of Health Care Surrogate allows you to appoint someone to be your Agent who will have the legal authority to make healthcare decisions if you can no longer speak for yourself. A Florida Living Will lets you state your wishes about health care in the event that you are in a persistent vegetative state, have an end stage condition or develop a terminal condition.
- Power of Attorney – this allows you to appoint an Agent to act on your behalf in legal matters. A general POA gives your Agent almost unlimited authority to act on your behalf whereas a limited POA only gives the Agent the authority specifically enumerated in the POS document. A traditional POA terminates on the death or incapacity of the Principal (the creator). If you make a POA durable, the authority you grant your Agent survives your incapacity.
Contact Port St. Lucie Wills, Trusts and Estates Attorneys
For additional information please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you are ready to get started on your estate plan, please contact the experienced Port St. Lucie wills, trusts and estates attorneys at Kulas & Crawford by calling (772) 398-0720 to schedule an appointment.