What is estate planning? If it makes you think of a stuffy Victorian novel or leaves you feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Only 42 percent of American adults have initiated the estate planning process, according to a study from Caring.com. When survey results focus only on adults with minor children, just 36 percent have a will, living trust, or other estate planning documents. Clearly, there are some common obstacles for the majority of adults who have not started planning their estates.
Whether your reasoning is that you’re too young, not wealthy enough, don’t know where to start, or too busy, the truth is that every adult should have an estate plan, especially once you become a parent. And since–unlike renewing a driver’s license or signing up for health insurance–there’s no external deadline or threat of consequences within your lifetime, it’s easy to think that tomorrow is the best time to get started on your estate plan. We’re here to tell you that the time is now–as in today, this minute, while you’re reading this article. To help you get started we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of tips and simple actionable steps.
Why Do I Need An Estate Plan?
We’ve just told you that everyone needs an estate plan, but we know some people will still think this rule doesn’t apply to them. If you’re already on board you can skip this section. For those who need persuading, here are the top reasons why you need an estate plan:
- Minor Children: If you have one or more children under the age of 18, you should at least have a will to identify a guardian for your children in the event that both parents die. Depending on the type and number of assets you own, a trust may be necessary to safeguard assets for a minor child until they reach inheritance age.
- Multiple Marriages: Some families consist of biological and stepchildren, as well as more than one spouse in a person’s lifetime. Careful estate planning can ensure your wishes are followed without controversy.
- Loved Ones With A Disability: If you have children or other family members with a disability, there are specific trusts you can use to provide for your disabled loved one after your death without compromising their access to state and federal benefits.
- Taxes: While Florida doesn’t have state-level estate or inheritance taxes, there’s still federal tax laws to consider. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act raised the income exemption on federal estate tax from $5.49 million to $11.2 million per person, but this is scheduled to expire at the end of 2025. Estates worth more than the exemption level will have the additional value taxed at 40 percent.
- Probate: We’ll talk more about this below, but for now all you need to know is that there are several good reasons to avoid probate including extra fees, hassle to your loved ones, and loss of privacy.
Identify Your Goals
Now that you know why estate planning is necessary, you may be ready to compose your will right away. However, just as brainstorming and outlining were essential pre-writing steps for the essays you wrote in high school essays, identifying your goals and priorities in advance will make the estate planning process easier. Some of these questions can be answered on your own, while others may require the advice of an estate planning professional. For example, the estate planners at CBTFL can help you plan for the future to ensure you’re on track to meet the life and financial goals that are important to your family.
- Who can you name as the Personal Representative of your estate? You want to choose someone responsible and trustworthy, but you should also ask beforehand to make sure the person can and is willing to take on the tasks associated with settling your estate.
- The same considerations apply when it comes to choosing a guardian for any minor children you have. You should also think about how your young children will be financially supported in the event of the death of one or both parents.
- How and when would you like your assets to be distributed? A will can assign heirs, who will receive the inheritance of money or property as soon as your estate is settled. If you would like certain assets to be held and/or distributed over time (known as “stretch distributions”), you’ll need to set up certain types of accounts and/or trusts.
- Are there specific charitable organizations you want to leave money or assets to?
- Assess the probate fees and estate taxes your estate may be subject to. How can you avoid or minimize them?
- Are you a business owner? If the answer is yes and you want to keep the business in the family, you’ll need to plan for succession.
In the minds of many people, estate planning is synonymous with a will. However, a will is just one of many estate planning documents you may need. Here’s a list of the basics:
- Last Will and Testament: Unless you you’re your assets distributed in accordance with Florida law, you need to create a will. The will then dictates who your heirs are and what they will inherit. You may also name a Personal Representative of your will, as mentioned above.
- Living Will: Dictates your wishes for end-of-life care, such as whether or not you want to be resuscitated and/or have certain extreme measures taken to prolong your life.
- Health Care Surrogacy, Proxy, or Power of Attorney: Designates a person to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to decide for yourself.
- Durable Power of Attorney: Enables a spouse, adult child, or other person to handle your financial/legal affairs such as signing checks, contracts, deeds, tax returns and more.
- Pre-Need Guardianship Designation: Decides who will be appointed to care for you in the event that you are unable to care for yourself.
Completing some or all of these legal documents ensures that your wishes will be honored after your death. It also removes potential burdens from your loved ones, such as having to make heartbreaking decisions about end-of-life care. In addition to these documents, you’ll want to make sure you have the right set of financial accounts, such as trusts, college savings accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, and more. This is where working with an estate planner at a financial institution such as CBTFL can be very helpful. Estate planning experts can help you determine the best set of accounts to meet your financial goals. They can also help you update them as your life and goals change. Any major life change–such as a change in marital status; the birth, 18th birthday, or college graduation of a child or grandchild; a death in the family; major change in assets; or retirement– should trigger a revaluation of your estate plan.
Moving To Florida With A Will From Another State
Many residents of the sunshine state move here after retirement, so you may already have a will from another state. If your will was deemed valid in the place you lived previously, it will most likely be presumed valid in Florida. However, you will still need to sign it yourself and/or with a witness in front of a Florida court or notary. In some cases it may be simpler to draw up a new will after you move, especially since your will should state that you are a resident of Florida. Consult with an estate planner to make sure your out-of-state will is considered valid here.
Is your Personal Representative also a Florida resident? If not, you’ll need to find a new one. You should also review (or consult with a lawyer about) Florida’s Power of Attorney Statutes. They will apply to any POA established within Florida or another state.
We recommend reading The Florida Bar’s “Consumer Pamphlet: Probate In Florida” for everything you need to know about the probate process and how to avoid it. Here are some key takeaways:
- Probate consists of “a court-supervised process for identifying and gathering the assets of a deceased person” and then settling debts, paying probate costs and funeral expenses, and distributing the rest to the decedent’s heirs.
- Probate occurs both when there is a valid will (it must be admitted to the court) and when there is no will.
- The entire process can take six months or more to complete.
- Establishing a Revocable or Living Trust can help your estate avoid the costs, lengthiness, and invasion-of-privacy of the probate process.
Talk With An Estate Planner To Get Started
Even though you have a better understanding of the estate planning process now, you may still feel overwhelmed. It’s time to reach out to a professional estate planner for expert advice and help completing your estate planning checklist. Did you know that your community bank can help? The estate planners at CBTFL can show you how to create an estate trust and manage your assets to help you plan for the future, build wealth, and meet your financial goals. As your local financial institution, we already know you and your family, and we also have a nuanced understanding of local, state, and federal laws that affect your estate plan. With locations in and around Ocala, Gainesville, and The Villages, it’s easy and convenient to start the estate planning process today with CBTFL. Contact us to learn more.
Community Bank & Trust of Florida and its directors, officers, and employees are not permitted to give legal or tax advice. While we can assist clients in the areas of estate and financial planning, only an attorney can draft legal documents, provide legal services and give legal advice. Clients should consult with their legal and tax advisors prior to entering into any financial transaction or estate plan. Because it cannot provide legal services or give legal advice, Community Bank & Trust of Florida services or advice relating to “estate planning” are limited to (i) financial planning, multigenerational wealth planning, investment strategy, (ii) management of trust assets, investment management and trust administration, and (iii) working with the client’s legal and tax advisors in the implementation of an estate plan.