When it comes to the estate planning process, one document gets the lion’s share of the limelight: the last will and testament. Often the catalyst for drama in books, films, and soap operas, this legal record is actually a must-have in the real world.
While many people have a tendency to put this task off, the professionals at Easler Law advocate for a more proactive approach to your end-of-life planning. Have you prepared your will yet, or do you keep saying ‘someday’? Are you wondering what a will actually entails and how to go about drafting one? Keep reading to learn more!
What is a will, anyway?
Who do you want to inherit your things when you pass away? Who do you want to appoint as a guardian for your children? And who do you trust to sort it all out? Your answers to these questions and so much more are recorded in a last will and testament so that your final wishes can be carried out.
Upon your death, a properly executed will is used to prove your intent for the distribution of all the assets included in your estate. This may include real estate, bank accounts, stock shares, vehicles, jewelry, and anything else of value that you own. Leave them all to one special person, divide them equally among many heirs, donate them to charity – you decide! And consider this fair warning: If you don’t decide prior to your passing, the state of Florida will decide after (see below)!
For parents of minor children, it is particularly important. If there is no surviving biological or adoptive parent, naming the person, or people, who will raise those children is a critical decision that should be carefully considered and explicitly spelled out in a will. For parents of fur babies, it may be equally comforting to make known your wishes for who will assume care for any beloved pets. For both our children and our animals, making sure they are loved and cared for if we can’t be there ourselves is a responsibility that should never be neglected.
Described above is a traditional will. Your estate attorney may discuss other types of wills when you meet to review your unique planning needs. You may hear the term “pour-over wills,” which is designed to take any properties in your name at the time of your death and use them to establish a separate entity called a trust that will then manage those assets according to your wishes. You may also be encouraged to create a living will, which allows you to state your wishes regarding medical care at the end of your life should you be unable to communicate your decisions and preferences.
Is Having a Will Really That Important?
YES! Surveys suggest that roughly 60% of Americans have not written a last will and testament, which can place a tremendous burden on loved ones, particularly those who depend on you. To understand why, let’s consider what happens here in Florida when someone passes away without a will in place.
Property that has not been disposed of through a last will and testament will be distributed through Florida’s law of intestate succession. These inheritance law specifies to whom and in what portion all of the assets go. That means you have zero control over the outcome and that a loved one who has the greatest need may not inherit at all if the relationship isn’t at the top of Florida’s hierarchy.
Beyond the fundamental purpose of providing for the people you care about the most, you may also wish for a portion of your estate to go to a certain charity or cause. You may want to place funds in trust for a relative who is not equipped to make good financial decisions for themselves. There is a lot to consider and a lot at stake, but you are the only person who can make sure your preferences are both known and legally enforceable.
Creating a will also gives you the power to designate a personal representative, or executor, who will serve as your legal representative after your passing. This person has a significant responsibility to carry out your final wishes as you have specified, and you’ll want to be sure to name someone who is trustworthy, reliable, and capable of sound decision-making.
Do I Need A Lawyer to Help Me?
While some people attempt to go it alone, this is one time when it’s best to call in a professional. An estate attorney will be well-versed in Florida’s formal requirements for a valid last will and testament. A will that is not in compliance with the many formalities of writing and signing the document runs the risk of being invalidated.
An experienced lawyer will draft your will to meet all of the state’s requirements and will see to it that it is properly executed. A will that is not prepared correctly may not be carried out at all, or may cost the estate additional fees and probate expenses.
It also helps to speak with someone who can ask you all the questions you have not even thought to answer and guide you through various inheritance scenarios, from setting up trusts to assigning guardianship for your children. This is one legal document that is far too important to leave to guessing games and chance.
Where Do I Begin?
Start your estate planning journey here at Easler Law, where we recognize that small details can make a big impact. We’ll listen to your needs and your concerns, and help you make plans to protect your loved ones and honor your wishes.
We understand how daunting it can be to have these end-of-life discussions, but the truth is that tomorrow is promised to no one. If you’re ready to get started and you need some expert guidance, please call us right now to schedule a time to talk. Taking these important steps today is the greatest gift you can give to your family. It is a legacy of love and a true act of kindness.