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Brevard County, Florida, legal blog

Electronic witnessing of trusts, wills comes to Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a 78-page bill that allows for remote notarization and witnessing of legal documents. While many in the real estate world are excited about this advance that will likely making closings easier to arrange, the new law also brings changes to the world of estate planning.

A recent article on the e-notarizations law pointed out that it contains special estate-planning provisions for wills and trusts, health care advance directives, powers of attorney and more.

Spendthrift trusts: Whom do they benefit?

Some Florida residents with adult children struggle with making estate-planning decisions. For them, it's more than deciding who gets the antique gun collection and the life insurance benefits.

They worry that the legacy they leave their adult children could wind up being their undoing. So they may put off planning the disposition of their estates, and that can also have unintended results.

DIY: perils of doing estate planning yourself

Some jobs simply call for expertise: complex plumbing repairs, baking a wedding cake and surgery. In all three cases, the odds are with the person who hires an expert to ensure that the pipes, cake or stitches are as functional and beautiful as possible.

The same principle is in effect with estate planning. While it might be tempting to do it yourself, the reality is that few people without legal training and planning experience understand all of the available estate planning tools that protect heirs and assets in Florida.

Your incentive trust must address things beyond the incentives

With an incentive trust, you essentially put a carrot out there to try to entice your heirs to live the way you prefer. You want to give them incentives to accomplish worthwhile goals. You reward them with their inheritance the same way you reward children for doing their chores by giving them an allowance.

For example, maybe you want your child to have a good job and a good career. You worry that they don't have the motivation to do it. You also worry that leaving them an inheritance gives them a way out of employment; they can just live off of your money. Since that's not the life you want for them, you set up a trust that only pays out 5% of the inheritance per year, for 20 years, and they only get paid if they maintain employment during the year.

Death tax: what it is and how it’s calculated

The old saying is that there are only two things you can’t avoid: death and taxes. It seems clear that there are other unavoidable parts of life. It seems impossible to avoid the Florida sun and heat or the sound of the ocean, for instance.

Regardless, there is nothing that can be done to help you avoid death, but there are steps you can take to avoid or minimize the so-called death taxes (also known as the federal estate tax).

What happens during probate?

In a perfect world, you’d know exactly what you’re getting into when the probate process begins. However, there is no such thing as a “typical” probate process. There are times when everything goes as planned, as well as times when one complication after the next moves to the forefront.

Part I: Estate planning myths that will not go away

There are some myths that simply will not die. Even today there are people who believe that the Earth is flat, George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and that Columbus discovered America. Estate planning is, unfortunately, not immune from its own myths and legends.

The most popular estate planning myth is, without a doubt, the mistaken notion that estate planning is only for the wealthy. The reality is that everyone who owns property, or who is married or has children or other dependents, should have at minimum a will.

5 mistakes to avoid when you are creating your estate plan

Creating your estate plan is a necessary task, but it does take some thought. You have to make the choices that put your wishes first and that will take care of your family members when you aren't able to.

While it doesn't have to be difficult to get everything together, there are mistakes that you should be sure to avoid. Remember these so that your family members can rely on the plans you made.

  1. Not planning for digital assets. You probably have online accounts, such as those on social media and music websites. Don't forget to assign these to someone in your will. On some websites, you must fill out a designation form to alert the platform to who is going to take over for you if you pass away. Be sure to provide the designee with the username and password to each one. This can be done at the time of your death by leaving the location of the information in your letter of instruction.
  2. Not setting beneficiary designations. Some financial accounts have a payable on death designation that you need to fill out. The person you name here is the one who will get the account when you pass away. Savings, checking and investment accounts are some examples.
  3. Putting your funeral plans in your will. One of the most pressing decisions your family members have to make is about your final plans. You can outline your funeral and burial wishes in a letter to your family members so that they know what to do. Don't put this in the will because the will might not be read until long after your death.
  4. Failing to include end-of-life care. Think about what you want your final days to be like. You may need to set clear instructions about your medical care. This is done using the advanced directive, or living will. You can also fill out special "do not intubate" or "do not resuscitate" orders if you don't want either of those to happen to you. These need to be filed with any medical establishment you use.
  5. Waiting too long to set the plan. You have to be of sound body and mind to create your estate plan. If you wait too long, there is a chance that dementia or other conditions might mean that you don't meet these criteria for writing your will.

The eternal question: Who gets your stuff when you die?

The eternal question of who gets your stuff can be answered pretty quickly and easily. For instance, if you have a will, it is essentially a set of instructions for how your property is to be distributed.

But what happens if you die without a will? In the event you die “intestate” (without a will), the state of Florida – not you or your loved ones – will decide who will get your assets.

Recently relocated to Brevard County? Time for a talk

Let’s say you have recently relocated to Brevard County. You’ve left behind the snow and the sleet of your former home up north and you’re looking forward to enjoying your days of sunshine and sand in your new home here in Florida.

While you’re busy unpacking your sunscreen and swimming suits and the big lifestyle changes the Sunshine State has in store for you, consider a change you will need to make as well. The will or estate plan prepared for you in your former home state will need to be updated in your new home so that you can be sure to take full advantage of Florida law in protecting yourself and your loved ones.

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