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How should I include my second home in my estate plan?

With its sunshine and warm temperatures, Florida is the ideal second home for so-called “snow birds,” or those who live in colder states, but come down to Florida every winter.  Every year, Florida will welcome between 900,000 to one million seasonal residents during the winter months.  Most snowbirds own a second home in Florida.  While many snowbirds already have an estate plan in place, not all snowbirds will have taken into account their second out-of-state home.  Probate is controlled by state law, with your state of residence taking control over property owned within it. Owning a second home and living part time in a different state creates estate planning concerns that are best addressed with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Be Sure Your Estate Planning Documents Are Valid in Both States

Each state sets its own requirements for the validity of wills, as well as power of attorney and health care proxies.  If you live in two different states, you will want to ensure your estate planning documents comply with both states.  Alternatively, you can execute documents valid in each state.  For example, Florida requires that a health care proxy be signed in the presence of two adult witnesses, who cannot be your named health care surrogate.  If your state requires just one witness, it is best to follow Florida’s stricter requirements.  Otherwise, be sure to create a separate document complying with Florida law.

Plan for Your Second Home

Owning property in multiple states opens the doors for multiple probate court actions.  The probate court in your state of residence only has jurisdiction to distribute property held within the state.  Further, your state may have its own estate tax.  If you fail to account for your second home within your estate plan, it will likely become necessary for a secondary probate action to be opened in Florida.  A Florida resident will need to be appointed as executor and you will likely need local counsel. 

Setting up a trust that will own your homes, across multiple jurisdictions, is generally the best way to streamline the transfer of your property to your heirs.  By creating a trust, you may be able to avoid the need for probate entirely, not just in your home state but in Florida as well.  Contact an estate planning lawyer to get started creating your estate plan today.