In Florida, "estate planning" broadly refers to the process through which someone decides what is to be done with their assets after death.
The first step in any estate plan is to figure out what you truly want to be done with your assets after your death. This is a very personal decision, and you should discuss it with your family, and others who might have a direct interest in your decisions. As for truly implementing your goals, you should probably speak with a legal and/or financial professional to figure out the best way to accomplish these intentions.
In addition to decisions concerning the disposition of your property, you should decide how you want to spend your final days. For example, many people have a strong preference about whether and to what extent they'd like to be kept alive by artificial means. Whatever your choice on this matter is, you should make it clear to the people who will be positioned to make such arrangements for you, if you are unable.
A knowledgeable estate planner in Florida may also help you maximize the percentage of your assets that go to your chosen beneficiaries, by minimizing the impact of taxes and court fees. Moreover, preventing a will or other estate plan from being litigated in court will save your survivors an incalculable amount of time, money, and energy - and the better an estate plan is, the lower its chances of ending up in court.
Common Elements of Estates in Florida
Estate plans in Florida almost always have these features:
Will: A will allows you to control what is done with your property after your death. You can usually give your property to whoever you want, and make these gifts conditional. However, a will can only control another person's behavior insofar as placing conditions on gifts ("you don't get this money unless you spend the night in a haunted house"). The beneficiary doesn't HAVE to do anything if they don't want to, and are willing to surrender the money or property you left them.
Power of Attorney: Sometimes, people fear that they may become incapacitated (because of injury, illness, or mental deterioration), and that they won't be able to make their own decisions. Fortunately, if you want, you can grant a family member or close friend (or someone else you absolutely trust) legal authority to make essential decisions for you, if you are ever incapacitated. This is known as "power of attorney."
Funeral Arrangements: The judgment of what should be done with your body after you die is a very personal one. If you have a preference on this, for religious, or other, reasons, you should discuss this with a family member in advance. You should additionally put your wishes in writing, but you should not put it ONLY in a will; wills aren't always read immediately after the person who wrote it died. Sometimes, weeks, or even months, go by before the will is read. Obviously, by then it will almost certainly be too late to implement your wishes.
Do I Need a Florida Estate Planning Attorney?
Given the importance of decisions related to estate planning in Florida, you will probably find that having an efficient attorney to assist you will be well worth the cost, and might pay for itself in future savings.
Interesting Facts About Florida
Florida is located at the very southeastern tip of the United States. Its official nickname is "The Sunshine State", on account of its tropical climate and beach/peninsula culture. Florida's state capitol is Tallahassee, and it is the fourth most highly populated state in the U.S. It has an extensive state university system and is largely driven by the tourism and vacation industries.
Until the year 1973, Florida had a very complex and sometimes confusing trial court system. Later on, the Florida trial court system was redeveloped to make it much simpler. Currently, Florida operates a two-tiered trial court system consisting of County Courts (a.k.a., "People's Courts") and Circuit Courts. Higher-level claims and some appeals are heard in one of Florida's District Courts, or at the Florida Supreme Court. However, the majority of legal claims and Florida originate at the County and Circuit Court levels.
Florida is also known as the "Fishing Capital of the World". Thus, many of Florida's laws involve regulation of coastal waters and various other marine issues. Florida is also known for several unique laws, covering distinct issues such as potable water, mandatory auto inspections, and prohibitions on the open-carrying of handguns.
Lawyers in Florida study diligently to learn the specific laws and regulations enforced in the state. This allows them to meet the community's legal needs in a manner that is thorough and efficient. As Florida is also national border state, many attorneys in Florida are familiar with broader international legal issues.