Fort Lauderdale Estate Planning Lawyer
If you don’t have an estate plan of your own, the state of Florida and the IRS will simply go ahead and create one for you. Unfortunately, their plan will not be geared toward looking out for the best interests of you and your heirs, let alone your values and lasting legacy. Proper estate planning puts you in complete control of your affairs and can also spare your loved ones the expense, delay and frustration of managing your affairs if you become disabled or when you pass away.
As an experienced Fort Lauderdale estate planning lawyer dedicated to serving Floridians from all walks of life, we offer a complete range of estate planning services. While each of our plans is customized to meet your unique concerns, goals and dreams, we have found that our clients value our flat-fee, “Four Levels of Planning” approach. We have the experience and technical expertise to provide you with the most basic services to the most advanced, depending on your particular needs. Our ultimate goal is to help you enjoy the peace of mind that comes from having a well-designed plan in place for the future.
Proper estate planning can help you accomplish all of the following goals and more.
Providing for Incapacity
Many people believe that if they become incapacitated, their spouse or adult children can simply take over the legal management of their affairs for them. Not so. For someone else to manage your affairs, he or she must petition the court to declare you legally incompetent, a process that can be both time-consuming and frustrating. Even if the court appoints the person you would have chosen, the individual might have to return to the court every year and show how they are spending and investing your assets.
Fortunately, by using proper legal documents to designate a person or persons in advance to manage your affairs, they will have the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf right away, without a lengthy court hearing.
Likewise, you can appoint someone in advance to make medical decisions on your behalf by creating a durable power of attorney for health care. You can also use a living will to detail how you would like to be cared for and whether you want extraordinary measures to be taken to keep you alive if you become permanently unconscious or terminally ill.
If you die without an estate plan, or just a will, your estate will have to go through the probate court, a time-consuming, needlessly expensive and frustrating process. Details of your estate will also be open to public scrutiny. During the process, the probate court may freeze your assets until it determines their proper distribution, and your family will not have access to the money and other assets they may need to pay for basic expenses. A proper estate plan, however, can allow your estate to avoid probate entirely, making the distribution of your assets a faster, less expensive and private process.
Providing for Minor Children
It’s not something you want to think about now, but if you have young children, your estate plan should incorporate measures for their care in the event you pass away before they become adults and can take care of themselves. Factors you may want to consider include:
- Allowing your surviving spouse to devote more attention to raising the children without the added burden of a full-time job
- Providing special counseling and resources for your spouse if he or she lacks the experience or ability necessary to handle financial and legal matters
- The possibility that you and your spouse die at the same time or within a short period of one another (i.e., you may want to name a guardian and a trustee)
- Whether you’d like your beneficiaries to receive assets directly or have them placed in trust and distributed according to criteria such as age, need, behavior, education, and if they can handle a large inheritance on their own
- Choosing a guardian with the resources and skills necessary to properly care for you children, and who shares your values
Minimizing Death Taxes
Will your estate be taxed after you pass away? It depends on a number of factors, primarily the size of your estate and the efficacy of your estate plan. In addition to the federal estate tax, some states have their own, independent inheritance and estate taxes. Many strategies can be utilized to protect your estate from taxation or minimize the amount paid. Steps must be taken early to take full advantage of many of these strategies, and it is important to note that the laws governing estate taxes are continually changing, so your plan must be kept up to date.
Bequeathing money and other assets to charitable organizations not only allows you to assist the people, causes and institutions that have come to mean the most to you in life, it can also be an excellent way to accomplish other goals. These include reducing capital gains or estate taxes, earning a higher investment yield and ensuring a lifelong income stream.