Why should I have a will?
A will is a legal document that identifies how a person wishes to distribute their property after their death. If a person dies without a will (this is referred to as “intestate”), the state of Florida determines who will receive your assets. A will provides a clear plan of action for the division of your estate, and names fiduciaries who will carry out your plan. Having a will reduces the amount of stress and financial burden on your surviving family members. Finally, a will can also include provisions to reduce death taxes.
What is a revocable living trust?
A revocable living trust can be created during your lifetime and serves as a will substitute. You can serve as both trustee and beneficiary of that trust during your life. After your death, your assets will remain in the trust until they can be distributed according to your wishes. Typically, people who create a revocable living trust and transfer their assets to it would circumvent the probate process that is associated with a will, which can save your family time and money.
What is probate, and why do so many people want to avoid it?
Probate is the legal process of distributing your estate after your death. The probate process occurs in court, which may be costly for your family, especially if you do not have a will. Most Florida residents use revocable living trusts instead of wills to avoid the probate process altogether. We are happy to talk to you about your options for ensuring the best estate planning strategy to suit your needs.
Which basic estate planning documents should I have?
Most estate planning professionals agree that everyone should have at least five basic components to their estate plan. These include:
- A Revocable Living Trust – See details above.
- A Pour-Over Will – This document is used in conjunction with revocable living trusts. It essentially leaves any assets left out of the trust to the trust.
- Durable Power of Attorney – This document names a trusted individual (typically a spouse or child) to act on your behalf and make decisions in your stead regarding your property, even when you are no longer able to make your own decisions.
- A Living Will – Also known as a Health Care Advance Directive, a document which provides your wishes regarding medical treatment in the event you are in a terminal or unresponsive condition.
- Health Care Surrogate Designation – Also called a Health Care Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy, this document enables you to appoint someone you trust (typically a spouse or a child) to make medical decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to do so.
How can I minimize the amount of estate taxes I owe?
For large estates, Federal and state estate tax laws are often complicated and difficult to navigate. Steven J. Asarch has over two and a half decades of experience working with these laws and understands how to help clients preserve their wealth in the most tax-efficient manner. Depending on your unique circumstances, he can help you create targeted strategies (e.g. grantor trusts, family limited partnerships, limited liability companies, etc.) to minimize the amount of estate taxes you will owe. Steven works closely with financial experts, including accountants, bankers, and financial planners to develop a comprehensive and tax-efficient wealth preservation plan for each and every client.
How can I make sure my assets and my children’s inheritance are protected?
In order to make sure your assets are protected against potential financial difficulties, you should first meet with an experienced estate planning attorney. Together, you and your attorney will look at your specific goals for wealth preservation and your attorney will help you establish the necessary structures to safeguard your assets. For instance, we may form limited liability companies, irrevocable trusts, or other entities to help you minimize the amount of estate taxes you and your family will owe and to protect those assets from future creditors.
Your Children’s Inheritance
There are certain circumstances when your children’s inheritance can threatened. This includes a divorce or other financial challenges, including lawsuits and judgment creditors. While inherited assets are typically considered “separate property” that will remain with your child and would not be affected by a divorce, your child may very well commingle these inherited funds over the course of a marriage. Then, if your child goes through a divorce, their spouse may attempt to claim that the inherited assets have converted into marital property. Suddenly, the funds you left your child would be divided with the divorcing spouse.
Another threat to your child’s inheritance is the potential for financial or legal woes. If your child loses a lawsuit, their inheritance would be threatened. Creditors, debt collectors, and legal adversaries could target your child and the assets you allocated to them could be at risk.
In order to safeguard against these threats to your child’s inheritance, Steven J. Asarch will work with you to establish protections ensuring that these inherited assets will not be exposed to divorce, creditors, or lawsuits. Together, we will create a comprehensive inheritance plan that will keep your assets where they belong: within the family!
Is having a power of attorney important?
Yes. If you ever become incapacitated and unable to manage your affairs, no one will be able to act on your behalf unless a court appoints a guardian. However, a guardianship proceeding can be avoided if you sign a valid durable power of attorney. The person you nominate to serve as your power of attorney agent has a significant amount of responsibility in the event you become incapacitated. It is their duty to make decisions on your behalf and ensure that your wishes are honored. It is important to have a trusted person in place to help ensure your wishes are upheld and your financial interests are protected.
Why should I consider putting a Health Care Advance Directive in place?
Health Care Advance Directives are legal documents that state your preferences regarding the types of medical care or medical treatment you would like to receive, and who would make such decisions in the event you are unable. For instance, what would happen if you suffered a devastating stroke that left you unable to communicate? How would you let your medical providers know which treatments you would like to receive? Having a document in place that addresses your specific wishes about which treatments you would like (or would not like) to receive in a variety of catastrophic scenarios will ensure that, should the unthinkable happen, your preferences for medical treatment will be respected and upheld.
As you consider your preferences for any future medical decisions, you should also consider executing a Health Care Surrogate Designation (also known as a Health Care Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy). A Health Care Surrogate Designation identifies a trusted person (and alternative person) to make medical decisions on your behalf, should you be unable to communicate your preferences.
While thinking about these possible medical scenarios can be daunting, it is important to document your exact preferences before it is too late. Working with a trusted estate planning attorney who can help you prepare clear advance directives will give you the peace of mind that, no matter what happens, your preferences regarding health care matters and decisions will be known and respected.