St. Augustine & Jacksonville FL Wills, Trusts & Estates Attorney
Several studies conducted over the past few years have estimated that between 55 percent and 64 percent of Americans don't have a Last Will and Testament. This issue has been brought to light recently in the case of the late music icon Prince, who died without leaving a Will to clarify how his estimated $300 million fortune would be distributed. As a result, complex probate litigation over the estate may last several years and will likely cause over half of the estate to be paid out in State and Federal taxes.
If you pass away without a valid Will in the State of Florida, your estate will be distributed according to the laws of "intestacy," and must pass through the probate process. This means you lose control over how your estate will be distributed and important family members may not receive any inheritance.
The Law Office of Marcus Thompson provides comprehensive estate planning services designed to fit your needs. Marcus will take the time to explain the pros and cons of each option and will assist you in developing a customized estate plan. Our goal is for you to rest assured that your family and friends will be taken care of according to your wishes and that you will be prepared for life's unexpected events. CONTACT US today to schedule a free consultation to learn how we can help you create an estate plan that gives you peace of mind.
A Last Will and Testament is a legal document that allows you to specify how your property and assets will be divided upon death. A Will allows you to name a "personal representative" (sometimes referred to as an "executor/executrix"), who oversees the administration of your estate. In Florida, there are several legal requirements that must be met in order for a Will to be valid and recognized by a court. If you don't have a Will or your Will is deemed invalid, your estate must pass under Florida laws of intestate succession and you lose control of how your estate is distributed.
The requirements for a legally binding Will in Florida consist of the following:
- The maker of the Will (known as the "testator") must be at least eighteen (18) years of age and of sound mind at the time the Will is signed.
- The Will must be in writing. Florida law does NOT recognize "Nuncupative Wills," which are Wills that are declared orally in the presence of witnesses.
- The Will must be signed by the testator in the presence of two (2) witnesses, who must sign the Will in the presence of the testator and in the presence of each other. Witnesses are permitted to be persons with an interest in the Will (known as "beneficiaries"), although this could lead to potential claims of improper influence. It is better practice for the witnesses to be unrelated individuals who do not have any interest in the estate. Florida law does NOT recognize "Holographic Wills", which are Wills that are handwritten by the testator without any witnesses.
- When your Will is administered through the probate process upon your death, your personal representative must first prove the "validity" of the Will to the court. This typically involves requiring the witnesses of your Will to appear in court, personally or through sworn statement. In Florida, you have the option of making your Will "self-proving" by executing a special affidavit at the time you sign your Will. A self-proving affidavit helps to simplify the probate process and avoid delays in the event witnesses can't be located.
Even if you already have a Last Will and Testament in place, it is important to periodically have your Will reviewed and updated if you have experienced any life-changing events, such as a divorce, birth, or death in the family. A Will may be changed or added to by creating a new Will or by drafting a "Codicil." Each of these documents must follow the same legal requirements outlined above in order to be valid. If you are interested in creating your Last Will and Testament or would like to have your Will reviewed and updated, CONTACT US today to speak directly with a knowledgeable St. Augustine estate planning attorney. We offer estate planning packages, including a Last Will and Testament, Living Will, Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Advanced Directives, and all types of Trusts at affordable flat rates.
A Living Trust, also known as an "Inter Vivos Trust" or "Revocable Trust," is an estate planning option that can help you avoid the time-consuming probate process and reduce taxes and attorney's fees. The individual who creates the living trust is known as the "Grantor," and the person who manages and oversees the trust is called the "Trustee." A Living Trust Agreement is drafted, which provides instructions on how the trust will be managed during the grantor's lifetime and how the assets of the trust will be distributed upon the grantor's death by a successor trustee. The grantor must "fund" the Living Trust during his or her lifetime by titling assets such as bank accounts, stock certificates, motor vehicle titles, and real estate deeds in the name of the trust. For example, real property under the trust may be titled in the following format: "John Doe, as Trustee under the provisions of The Joe Doe Revocable Trust dated July 4, 1776." Failing to properly fund your Living Trust during your lifetime will ultimately render your trust useless and will force your assets to pass through the probate process.
In addition to Living Trusts, the Law Office of Marcus Thompson can also assist in the preparation of Irrevocable Trusts, Charitable Trusts, Spendthrift Trusts, Special Needs Trusts for persons with disabilities, Dynasty Trusts, Pet Trusts, Gun Trusts, and more. CONTACT US today to learn more about our estate planning services and set up a free initial consultation.
Probate Administration is the court supervised process by which a person's assets are transferred to others after his or her death. The probate process can be very confusing, time-consuming, and expensive if certain issues arise during the administration of the estate. Oftentimes, probate administration is a relatively straight-forward process that involves the personal representative accounting for the decedent's assets, paying off the decedent's debts, and distributing the balance of the estate to the decedent's beneficiaries in accordance with his or her Last Will and Testament. However, several issues may arise that can complicate the process, including multiple creditor claims and contested wills.
Depending on the size of the estate and other factors, Florida has different options for probate administration, which have different processes and requirements. The Law Office of Marcus Thompson can assist you in deciding which of the following options is best for your situation:
- Formal Administration
- Summary Administration
- Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration
- Ancillary Administration - supplementary administration when the decedent dies holding property within the State of Florida and a primary probate administration has been commenced in the decedent's home state
If you are confused about the probate administration process in Florida, CONTACT US today to schedule a free consultation with a St. Augustine attorney who can answer your questions and provide careful guidance