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Fort Myers Probate & Estate Planning Law Blog

Protect your adult children through estate planning

Once a child reaches legal adulthood at the age of 18, a parent loses the majority of his or her authority over the child's legal affairs. This can cause serious trouble in the even of an emergency, so it is important to consult with an estate planning professional when your child approaches adulthood. Otherwise, you may find yourself struggling with the law simply to provide proper medical and financial assistance to the child you love.

You must consider two primary issues when it comes to estate planning for an adult child. First, you want to make sure that you retain access to his or her medical information and authority to make medical decisions on the child's behalf in the event that the child suffers some tragic event and is incapacitated. When your child's life and comfort depend on your ability to make quick decisions, you don't want to waste time fighting the legal system for the right to help the child you love.

Consider potential beneficiary conflicts while estate planning

Creating an estate plan is an invaluable component of protecting and providing for your family and loved ones once you pass away. However, just as estate plans offer differing protections or benefits, some estate planning strategies may actually create enormous conflicts that you might not intend.

As you consider your estate planning strategy, it is wise to acknowledge the effects that certain estate distributions (or lack thereof) can have on your beneficiaries and heirs. While you cannot control how others respond to your choices, you can certainly consider these potential responses thoughtfully. For instance, if you choose to leave someone out of your will, or wish to distribute assets with significant personal or monetary value, you may communicate unintentionally negative or hurtful things to those who do not receive what they expect.

Tips on estate planning when your family is a blended one

There are many definitions for the family unit these days. Gone are the times when most marriages were between a man and a woman and lasted a lifetime. Today, chances are you may be part of a blended family. So, when you sit down to plan your estate, you might want to keep that in mind.

Families today could include stepchildren, ex-partners and former in-laws. Keeping these people in mind when you're in the throes of estate planning could keep hard feelings from happening down the road.

Do you qualify for a special needs trust?

If you or a loved one is approaching a season of life where they need ongoing assistance, or if you have concerns about your loved one's provision after you are gone, you should consider what a special needs trust may have to offer. In very basic terms, a special needs trust allows a person to receive benefits from the trust so that he or she does not exceed the income caps on receiving government benefits. For many individuals, government benefits make life possible, where paying for ongoing expenses entirely out-of-pocket would quickly exhaust available resources.

When a special needs trust properly protects assets, the beneficiary may enjoy a number of advantages without jeopardizing government assistance. The trust may payout a certain amount of money per month and may also pay for certain expenses for the beneficiary. This may even cover luxury expenses, in some cases.

Why should I avoid probate?

Once you begin looking into estate planning options, you very quickly begin running into the same word repeatedly — "probate." The process of probate doesn't extend far outside of estate reconciliation, so it may be an unfamiliar concept if you're just now beginning your estate planning journey. Probate is the process by which the state distributes the property of a deceased person to his or her heirs. Property that passes through probate may lose value or incur taxes, leaving the heirs with much less than the decedent intended.

To this end, most people who consider estate planning take great care to avoid the probate process as much as possible. Depending on the nature and value of your assets, the state you live in and the steps you take to avoid probate, you may prevent significant losses to your estate as it passes to your beneficiaries.

Can a will circumvent probate?

Wills are very useful documents, and every adult should have one. Each time that some very wealthy person passes away without a will (and yes, this does happen far more often than you'd believe) estate planning attorneys throughout the country roll their eyes and wonder what could possibly have kept the decedent from making a will during his or her lifetime. If you have any assets or liabilities, you probably need a will. However, it is also important to understand that wills are not magic, and cannot bypass certain laws simply because the author of a will wishes it might.

One thing wills generally cannot do is circumvent probate, at least not entirely. Probate is the process by which the state distributes a deceased person's estate after he or she passes away, and without a will, the estate division is unlikely to align with the decedent's preferred estate distribution.

How long does a durable financial power of attorney last?

Many individuals throughout Florida find that giving someone they trust a durable financial power of attorney is a very helpful way to plan for a period of time where a person may not have the mental acuity to make financial decisions on his or her own. However, whenever you consider handing over the reigns of your financial life to someone else, no matter how trustworthy he or she is or how qualified he or she is for the job, some apprehension is still normal.

Durable financial powers of attorney allow the appointed agent to act on the granting party's behalf, paying bills and taxes, taking care of household costs, investing assets and just about any other financial action you may think of. Of course, this amount of power is a great responsibility, so you must choose your agent very carefully.

Protecting your estate from immature beneficiaries

For many individuals living out their golden years here in Florida, leaving an estate to their family or loved ones is not as simple as one might hope. Sometimes, the individuals who stand to receive generously from an estate are either not old enough or not mature enough to handle the assets at the time of the benefactor's death. In these cases, a testamentary trust built into a will may prove useful.

A testamentary trust is one that is written into a person's last will. Upon death, the assets designated in the trust pass through probate and then go into the trust. This type of trust is typically used to hold assets until a beneficiary reaches a certain age or meets maturity conditions to receive his or her payout. It is also possible to set up an ongoing incremental payout through such a trust.

Unless you execute a will, you will have no say about your assets

You probably don't normally sit around talking about your own mortality, unless you are among others in Florida who are currently suffering from terminal illness. Either way, you may also be like many people throughout that nation who prefer not to discuss such matters as it can be rather uncomfortable. On the other hand, based on recent news stories regarding famous people who died without first executing estate plans, you may already understand the importance of getting your own documents in order, regardless of your current state in life.

Just because you may not have an estate worth millions of dollars doesn't mean you shouldn't file a final will and testament. There are other estate planning documents that may also serve a purpose to help you protect what you own and make sure your wishes regarding finances and medical treatment are clearly understood.

Using living trusts to avoid probate

Living trusts are an important tool in the estate planning toolbox. This term refers to a number of different estate planning products, each with their own purpose and advantages. It is important for individuals who think they may benefit from a living trust to learn exactly which type of living trust might serve their particular needs.

In general, living trusts are desirable because they allow the creator to maintain a degree of control over the assets held within them, while sacrificing some other protections for this flexibility.