What is an estate planning attorney: everything you need to know
You worked hard to build your life — your family, your home and all the things you cherish. Have you put the same effort into planning what happens to your estate when you die?
Ask yourself these questions:
Do you have a properly executed Last Will and Testament?
Are your assets securely managed to protect them from unwanted creditors?
Have you designated a Healthcare Surrogate and Durable Power of Attorney to serve in case of emergency or the unexpected loss of capacity?
Have you appointed a guardian for your minor children in case you and your spouse become deceased?
The decision of whether or not to plan your estate will determine if your last wishes are fulfilled, or if your family will be required to spend extended time and money to settle your estate. An estate planning attorney can help make sure you answer "yes" to all of the above.
Everyone should do some estate planning. Yes, you can find downloadable forms on the Internet, but this isn't the time for a DIY project. There's a good chance a form you fill out online may not hold up in court, making it an invalid will, causing your family unwanted stress that an estate planning attorney could have help you avoid.
What happens if your will is no good? You end up passing away intestate.
What Is Intestacy?
When someone dies without a will or trust, your assets will be distributed based upon a formula the state came up with to distribute property in a way it believes is “most fair”. The distribution of your property is decided by a probate judge in the Probate Courts and may require the hiring of legal counsel to guide your family through the time-consuming, confusing and expensive process. It also leaves your heirs vulnerable to additional court fees and opens the door to potential legal battles.
What Is Testacy?
Even if you die with a valid will, your assets must still pass through Florida Probate Court, where your will, heirs, potential creditors, and assets will be reviewed through a court process that is open to the public. The court will pay any creditors, then distribute your remaining goods and property based on the provisions in your Last Will and Testament.
This process also takes a long time and can also result in expensive lawyer fees, similar to intestacy. Plus, your wishes may or may not be honored, depending on whether they are legal. Some types of wishes are against public policy and will not be honored, which is why it is important to consult with an estate planning attorney to guarantee your wishes are appropriate and recognizable.
You can save your heirs time and money by establishing a thorough estate plan during your lifetime. After you pass away, your family will have a clear answer of how you wanted to distribute your property and avoid unnecessary loose ends or quarrels.
You can meet with a local estate planning attorney who understands the laws in your state to guarantee your possessions will go to your loved ones, and your intentions are realized.
What's an Estate Planning Attorney?
An estate planning attorney specializes in making sure your life savings and property are distributed as you wish after your death.
Estate lawyers review your assets,take an inventory so you don't accidentally leave something significant out of your will, and explain tax-efficient ways to distribute your property, among other things.
They can draft a Last Will and Testament, a Living Trust, and a plan for taxes. An estate planning attorney will also know how to protect your health care and financial choices with legal documents like Healthcare Surrogates and Durable Power of Attorneys.
A well-planned estate will eliminate disagreements and questions about your preferences. Your legal documents will be detailed and legally executed so your family doesn't have to endure the agony and expense of figuring out what you would have wanted.
Benefits of An Estate Planning Lawyer
So just why should you hire an estate planning attorney? Let's review some of the benefits you'll reap:
Decoding Legal Documents
Everyone's situation is different. Do you need a simple will or a living trust?
Estate planning lawyers customize your legal documents especially for you. They can advise you when you're in a second marriage, have trouble with grown children, or own property in several states.
Want to make a sizeable charitable contribution? Have healthcare concerns for a family member? Have minor children? Want to avoid paying high estate taxes? An estate planning lawyer can counsel you on how to handle almost any dilemma.
Reduce Estate Taxes
Gifts, death beneficiaries, joint property ownership, and trusts are all evaluated and discussed. An estate planning lawyer can strategize with you on how to best distribute your assets to maintain their value.
Update Your Plan
Your estate planning lawyer knows when you need to update your plan. Did you get married or divorced? Have a baby? Move to a different state? Estate planning lawyers know when the laws change and how they will affect you.
Attorneys specializing in estate planning know how to help you plan and properly execute your documents so they serve you and your heirs.
Scheduling a Meeting
You don't want your wishes to be ignored, and you don't want to burden your family with extra legal fees and taxes. So, you decide to meet with an estate planning lawyer and draft your Last Will and Testament, and other legal documents.
Here are some questions you should ask during your consultation:
What are the legal fees?
Most lawyers will charge a flat fee for an estate planning document.
If you have ongoing probate issues, the lawyer will likely charge an hourly rate.
What should you bring to your initial meeting?
Not sure what you should take with you when you meet with your estate planning attorney? Don't sweat it.
Check out our estate planning client intake form for a list of questions to answer for your first meeting with an estate lawyer.
Where is the lawyer licensed to practice?
Remember, all states are different. Be sure your lawyer is licensed in your state. At the Law Office of Ashley Zohar, PLLC, we are licensed to practice in Florida, New York and the District of Columbia.
Does the lawyer specialize in trusts, probate, or tax law?
Not all lawyers are created equal, and most specialize in a certain field.
You'll want to focus on lawyers experienced in providing top-notch legal counsel directed toward estate planning services.
At the Law Office of Ashley Zohar, PLLC we have been serving clients for more than 5 years in the areas of estate planning. Attorney Ashley Zohar is a member of the Florida Bar’s Real Property, Probate and Trust Law section where she remains updated on legislative updates and best practices in probate and trust law. Additionally, she attends tax law conventions to maintain an up to date understanding of the ever changing tax laws.
Is the lawyer able to advise on complicated matters?
Are you working with some pretty complex business holdings or family situations?
If so, you should feel confident that your estate planning attorney has seen it all and is prepared to help you navigate even the most challenging situations.
Attorney Ashley Zohar is passionate about complex situations and has strategized with numerous clients on how to best situation their assets to protect them well into the future.
Should you update your current Will or Trust?
Did you have a major life change that should be reflected in your will? Attorney Ashley Zohar will guide you toward how to make the necessary updates.
Different States Have Different Laws
It's important to note that each state has its own rules when it comes to preparing your estate and the rules often change. A local estate planning attorney can prevent devastating mistakes. Did you know that Florida Will Law requires your personal representative be a relative by blood or marriage, or if not related, the person must be a Florida resident?
That means if you choose your best friend who resides in another state as your executor, he/she cannot serve as your representative.
Another example is digital assets included in wills. Not all states have laws governing digital assets.
In 2016, Florida passed a law that allows representatives to handle digital assets in the same way they manage tangible assets like bank accounts and property. It also gives legal representatives the power to interact with the accounts on behalf of the estate.
Florida residents can plan who has legal authority for management and distribution of their digital assets but this may not be possible in all states.
Florida Estate Planning
A complete estate plan in Florida includes:
1. Last Will and Testament
Designates who gets your assets; who is the executor of the estate.
2. Durable Power of Attorney
Designates who may manage your finances should you become unexpectedly incapacitated.
3. Living Will
States your wishes for medical care should you become terminally ill.
4. Healthcare Surrogate
Designates who may manage your health care decisions should you become incapacitated.
What to Include in Your Will
A will transfers property and helps your heirs avoid tax liabilities. It allows you decide exactly where your property will go.
Here's a list of what you should include in your will:
Real Property: Real Estate, Land, Buildings
Cash: Checking and Savings Accounts, Money Market Accounts
Intangible Personal Property: Stocks, Bonds, Business Ownership, Intellectual Property, Royalties, Patents, Copyrights
Valuable Objects: Cars, Artwork, Jewelry, Furniture
You may dictate how your body is treated after death and how the estate should pay for the services.
Florida Digital Assets Law governs music, books, email, websites, blogs etc.
What Not to Include in Your Will
Not everything belongs in your will. You may think including certain items guarantees execution of your plan, but that's not always true. Below are a few things you should leave out of your will because they will pass automatically by operation of law.
Jointly Held Property: This property will legally pass from one owner to the surviving owner.
Life insurance and retirement trusts that list a beneficiary
Illegal gifts and requests
Stocks or bonds set to transfer to someone at your death
You can change a designated beneficiary on life insurance policies or Trusts, but it's best to do that in the original account.
Contact Us to Plan Your Estate
Now that you know more about estate planning attorneys and Florida wills, we hope you'll take matters into your own hands and take that next step to hire an estate planning attorney to help simplify the process.
When you consult with a Florida estate planning attorney, you don't have to worry if your estate has the proper legal documents.
Brown & Zohar Law is ready to help. We serve families in Tampa Bay and across Florida with the most up-to-date estate planning.
Please call 813-922-5290 or contact us for a consultation. We look forward to meeting you!