Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be rich or famous to have an estate. While the term “estate” may sound grandiose, it does not mean anything quite so lavish. Your estate simply refers to everything you own when you die. This includes your home, personal property, investments, bank accounts, and any interests in a family business or other partnerships. You are able to designate a beneficiary directly within a retirement account or life insurance policy. For most of your other assets, you will need to set up a trust. The trust needs to clearly state who should receive your assets upon your death.
If you die without a will or trust, you have died intestate. In these cases, state law will determine who receives your assets. But how your family distributes your assets might not happen the way you like. This is why it is important that you make a specific plan with your estate planning attorney. Under Florida law, the probate court will distribute your assets according to “intestate succession” rules. It all depends on your circumstances and which of your relatives survive you. This might mean your surviving spouse will receive the entirety of your estate. Another option is that your children receive a portion of your estate. However, if none of these circumstances apply, a more distant relative that you do not know might receive the benefits of your estate.
These heirs, whoever the probate court determines them to be, will receive the inheritance all at once. In the event an heir is a minor, you must establish a guardianship to monitor the inheritance until the minor is of age. If an heir is receiving government benefits at the time of inheritance, the change in financial circumstances may disqualify them from their government benefits going forward. If you have minor children, the court will need to appoint a guardian to care for them, which may or may not be the person you would have chosen for the role. The court will also appoint a guardian for you if you are not yet deceased but become incapacitated, which again may or may not be the person you would want making decisions on your behalf.
A Proper Estate Plan
A proper estate plan should include a last will and testament which will designate an executor of your probate estate and guardian any minor children. A durable power of attorney authorizes the person whom you designate to deal with your personal property and finances. You should also include an Advance Directive, which appoints someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event you should become unable to make those decisions yourself. This document will include end-of-life decisions such as the use of life support or resuscitation efforts. A revocable living trust will also ensure that your assets are protected from probate administration and ensure that assets are distributed according to your particular wishes. This may include distributing assets over time rather than all at once.