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Fort Myers Probate & Estate Planning Law Blog

Wills are useful planning tools but also have downsides

Wanting to create an estate plan is a wonderful desire to have. Creating important documents that get your affairs in order can bring about peace of mind for you and sense of relief for your surviving family when the time comes to settle your estate. Of course, it is important that you consider the various planning options available to you.

You may be like many other Florida residents who believe that having a will allows you to cover the necessary parts of your estate's affairs. However, estate planning goes far beyond simply distributing assets. Therefore, you may want to consider some of the downsides of a will before relying on that document alone.

Understanding the goals of a trust

When a loved one passes away and decides to leave some of their assets in a trust, the trust then governs what happens with that money. This goes beyond merely what is written in the will.

For instance, a person may consider leaving $100,000 to a grandchild so that they can pay for school. However, they may worry that the grandchild won't spend it on school at all. To cope with the potential issue, the grandparent can put the money into an educational trust so that it can only be used in that specific fashion.

A quick checklist for funeral planning

Funeral planning should be part of your estate planning process if you want to make everything go smoothly for your children. This lets them know what you want -- and gives you a chance to consider the financial side of the plan. Leaving money to cover the costs of your funeral and directions to show your desires takes a lot of stress out of what is sure to be an emotional time.

As you do your funeral planning, here's a quick checklist of the basic things you need to address:

  • Type of service. Options include memorial services, traditional funerals and visitations.
  • Type of disposition. Options include cremation and burial.
  • Organ donation. This includes eyes and skin, along with your internal organs.
  • Personalization options. Consider things like music, flowers, pallbearers, speakers, prayers and more.
  • Burial options. Consider headstones, grave markers and eco-friendly burials.
  • Memorial donations. You may want people to donate to charity instead of giving gifts or flowers.
  • Burial locations. Options include private property, local cemeteries and the scattering of ashes. You may want to buy a burial plot.
  • Payment options. You may decide to pay in advance for services or put money aside that your heirs can use for that purpose.

Can you get an inheritance from an unexpected source?

You expect to get an inheritance from your parents. Maybe you've even talked about it with them and contributed to their estate planning. You know there's always an outside chance that you'll get something from your grandparents, as well.

But what about more unexpected sources? Can you get an inheritance from anyone, or is there some sort of legal obligation to be in their family for them to pass assets on to you?

Estate planning includes yourself

Often, when we think about estate planning, we just think about the people who are getting money and assets: the heirs. The goal is to transfer the estate to them smoothly and efficiently. The plan focuses on the family's well-being for years and even generations to come.

That is important, but it is still critical to remember that your estate planning also includes yourself.

Is your estate plan ready for a devastating natural event?

You likely watched the news or saw updates about the recent devastating wildfires in other parts of the country, leading to the complete devastation and ruin of entire communities. Many people in the path of these fires lost everything in their homes in a matter of a few hours, some with little advanced warning. These fires are an excellent example of how unpredictable natural events can be. 

Florida readers know what this is like, living in a state that faces the threat of serious storms every hurricane season. You may know a hurricane is coming, but there are limits to what you can do to protect your home. Like the fire victims, you could lose everything in the blink of an eye. It is important to prepare your estate plan for such an event.

Can your family get rid of your do-not-resuscitate order?

End-of-life decisions can be complicated when someone's family members don't agree.

Consider this scenario: You decide you want a do-not-resuscitate order (DNR), feeling that if it's your time, it's your time. You don't want the doctors to revive you when there is little hope that you will lead a healthy, productive life after the fact. You also don't want to be a financial strain on your family -- which could happen if they have to pay for around-the-clock hospital care for you.

Does a will override a beneficiary designation?

Your parents have passed away, and you are reviewing their will with your siblings to see how they designated that their assets should be divided among you. You note that one significant asset that your parents had was a life insurance policy. However, it's a source of confusion for you.

In the will, your parents designated that the policy should get split evenly among their children. On the policy itself, though, they just named one beneficiary: your oldest sibling. That was their only child when they bought the policy. However, they forgot to update the policy as more children were born and even when they drafted their current will.

Lack of communication can cost you in estate planning

When doing any type of estate planning and setting up assets for your heirs, make sure that you communicate with them about your wishes and your plans for the future. A lack of communication can lead to some critical errors that may prove very costly.

For instance, one family shut down their father's bank account when he had a stroke. He could no longer communicate with them. They took the money and put their father in a home. He passed away not long after.

7 common types of trusts

The way that the trust administration process plays out depends on the specific stipulations in that trust, the goals of the original creator of the document and what type of trust it is. Everyone who sets up a trust should have considered all of their options to determine exactly what fits best with their family, their needs and their plans for the future.

Some common types of trusts include:

  1. Totten trust, which is a revocable trust
  2. Tax by-pass trust
  3. Spendthrift trust
  4. Special needs trust
  5. Constructive trust, which is an implied trust
  6. Charitable trust
  7. Asset protection trust