Estate Planning Law Firm Jacksonville, Florida
Estate planning is the process of legally documenting how and by whom your affairs will be handled when you die, and during any lifetime periods of mental and/or physical incapacity.
Your estate planning documents will serve as a roadmap of sorts for your loved ones, so they should clearly identify your wishes. The most common tools used in estate planning are wills and trusts. The specific documents that will be used to help form the foundation and framework of your estate plan will largely depend on your current circumstances, and on your goals for the management and distribution of your financial assets.
Based in Jacksonville, Florida the Judy-Ann Smith Law Firm, P.A. helps Florida clients by advising on, professionally drafting and executing estate planning documents designed to ensure our clients’ needs and wishes are addressed in a clear, unambiguous manner.
Common Estate Planning Tools
A will is a legal document that serves to communicate how you want your assets to be distributed when you die, and who you want to oversee that process for you. That person or professional fiduciary is known as your personal representative.
To make a valid will in the state of Florida, or to amend an existing will through a document called a codicil, your will must be in writing and must be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses.
Having a valid will does not mean your estate will not need to go through a probate proceeding when you die. However, your will can help make the probate process easier.
If you die without a will in Florida, you are essentially letting the state write your will for you. State law will determine to whom, and in what percentages, your assets will pass. The Judy-Ann Smith Law Firm, P.A. can help you by preparing a last will and testament so that your wishes will be honored.
Trusts are another popular estate planning tool. When a trust has been validly created and funded, assets inside the trust will pass outside of probate court when you die. This can eliminate the hassle, expense and publicity that can come with time-consuming probate court matters.
Unlike wills, under which assets are generally distributed as soon as is practical after the estate has been administered, trusts can “live” for a period of years or even decades after you die, allowing for management of assets on behalf of minors or anyone other beneficiaries.
When a trust is used in estate planning, it is a multi-step process. First, the person creating the trust (called the “grantor” or “settlor”) creates a legal trust agreement. When the trust agreement is in place, the next step is to “fund” the trust by transferring assets into it, so that the trust works the way you want it to.
Trusts can be either “revocable”, meaning you can make changes during your lifetime, or “irrevocable”.
What Else Can Estate Planning Do?
Beyond planning for how your assets will be managed and distributed, your estate planning documents can also help in several different ways, including:
- Identifying guardians and custodians for minors
- Providing for family members with special needs
- Helping you meet your charitable goals
- Provide for smooth succession and continuation for business owners
- Plan for the care of pets
Planning for Incapacity
Your estate plan should also include legal documents that authorize someone else to handle your financial affairs and make your medical decisions, if you are unable to do so yourself.
Documents used for incapacity planning include power of attorney for financial and legal matters, living wills, and directives authorizing someone else to be your voice for health care decisions.
Get Started with Your Own Estate Planning Today
To learn more and to start the process of documenting your wishes, contact the Judy-Ann Smith Law Firm, P.A., today.