Part of the human experience is being there for friends and family. They help us when needed and we do the same in return. We look out for one another. This continues after death: sharing assets, wealth or family heirlooms. Many people use a will to share with their children, spouse or close friends. If you have no will, the state of Florida oversees what happens to your possessions.
Life is unpredictable, yet studies report that up to 60 percent of Americans do not have a will or estate plan of any kind. By having a plan, it’s possible to protect loved ones from financial hardship, share assets without government interference, and to establish health care priorities and decision-making roles if you need to.
There are two basic methods of estate planning.
One-size fits all
A basic will is often adequate for young individuals. It details how you’d like to distribute your assets and who will oversee things. As TV and movies often illustrate it, a basic will says something like, “I leave my baseball card collection to my children.” A short meeting with an attorney or even an online kit may establish a simple estate plan such as this.
While this method sounds simple enough, it does get more complicated. All property is subject to review, valuation and, possibly, taxation by the state. More importantly, most property is more complex than that. Does “baseball card collection” also include football cards? That’s just one example. Where you live will also play a role. A will established in Georgia or on the internet will not always be valid under Florida law.
When property is complex, such as real estate, investments or business assets, there is bound to be confusion. If the property requires maintenance or depends on market rates, time is money. Any dispute doesn’t just create headaches, it costs money.
No two people lead the same lives, so a one-size-fits-all approach has serious limitations. In the baseball card example above, one word can change the meaning of a document. It’s important to address estate planning from all angles, asking “what if?” and “what else can this mean?” at every opportunity.
How people choose to leave assets to loved ones varies. Some leave wealth to their family equally, while others consider needs, habits and interests on an individual level. Maybe your sister struggles with debt while your older brother has a secure retirement plan. These issues require careful thought for both financial and emotional reasons. An experienced estate planning attorney can provide guidance while drafting documents that protect your wishes and minimize confusion that would otherwise add frustration to an already stressful situation.