If you die without a will in Florida, your entire estate will be subject to the probate process. This means that no matter what your intentions may have been for dividing up your assets, the courts will determine what your relatives inherit. Even with a will, the probate process can be lengthy and expensive. Because of this, our elder law attorneys recommend trying to avoid the probate process if possible. Here are a few things you can do to avoid probate.
What is Probate?
Probate is a process the courts go through to authenticate a last will and testament and ensure everything is carried out according to the wishes of the deceased. The personal representative you appoint for your estate will go through the process of locating and securing assets. They will also be responsible for making sure debts, bills, and taxes are paid before distributing the remainder of the estate to your beneficiaries.
While probate is a necessary legal process to make sure your final wishes are carried out, it can reduce how much money is passed on to your beneficiaries. Probate can eat up to 5% of your estate’s value through attorney and probate court costs.
Since the probate process takes time, your beneficiaries may have to wait months or even years before they are able to inherit what remains of your estate. Your personal representative or beneficiaries may even have to hire a probate litigation attorney if there are any will contests.
How Can I Avoid Probate?
Learning how to avoid probate can be as simple as setting up an appointment with an experienced elder law attorney. Below are just some of the things your attorney may advise you to do to avoid probate.
1. Living Trusts
Like the name suggests, a living trust goes into effect while you are still living. A trust planning attorney can help you set up a living trust and appoint a trustee. The assets you place “in trust” are then managed by the trustee. Since you’re still alive when all this happens, the courts don’t have to prove through probate that everything is being carried out according to your will.
2. Name Your Beneficiaries
Most people are surprised to learn that you can name beneficiaries for bank accounts. Taking this simple step can ensure the right people inherit your money, especially if you have a lot in savings. You should also make sure that your retirement accounts have beneficiaries listed so they won’t get tied up in probate. Instead, they will go directly to their intended recipients at death.
3. Joint Property
Joint property cannot be included in your estate if the other property owner is still alive. For this reason, many married couples own houses jointly so the primary residence doesn’t get tied up in probate after a spouse’s death. Jointly-held property will always go to the survivor, which is why it’s important to check the specific ownership designation of your real estate. It is also important to keep in mind that after the death of the first spouse, the house should be retitled to protect it from probate after the death of the second spouse.
Planning your estate doesn’t have to be rocket science. Our estate planning attorneys are proud to serve clients in Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and Naples. To request a free consultation with one of our Florida estate planning lawyers, call Lusk, Drasites, & Tolisano P.A. at (800) 283-7442.