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As we enter the New Year, now is a good time to start looking to ensure that your assets and loved ones are taken care of in the future. Estate planning allows you to dictate how your assets will be managed and distributed after your passing and will help to minimize legal complications and potential family disputes. It also offers peace of mind,  knowing that your wishes will be honored and your family’s future is secure. By tackling this task early in the year,  you can set a responsible and forward-thinking tone for the months ahead.

Steps For Estate Planning In Florida

  • Understand Florida’s Estate Planning Laws: Estate planning laws can vary by state. In Florida, it is important to be aware of specific regulations, such as those pertaining to homestead properties, which have certain exemptions. In general, a homestead is a parcel of real property on which its owner permanently resides; otherwise, it is known as an owner-occupied house. The homestead exemption is relevant in terms of any sale of the owner’s permanent real estate property in Florida and how it will affect taxes that might be due in the future. Homestead real property receives some very valuable benefits and protections as compared to non-homestead real property in the state of Florida. 

    It is also important to understand Florida’s probate process and the procedures that are required if probate a will becomes necessary in Florida.  Knowledge of how the inheritance tax system works in Florida is extremely useful as well. The inheritance tax, also called an estate tax, is a tax based on the wealth of a deceased person. Florida does not have an inheritance tax or estate tax, so Florida’s inheritance tax rate is zero. A beneficiary of a deceased person in Florida does not owe any state taxes on inherited property.
  • Inventory Your Assets: Compile a list of your assets, including real estate, bank accounts, investments, insurance policies, and personal property of value. This will give you a clear picture of what comprises your estate.
  • Determine Your Goals: Decide what you want to achieve with your estate plan. This may include providing for the family, protecting assets, minimizing taxes, or supporting charitable causes.
  • Create A Will: A will is a fundamental part of estate planning. It specifies how you want your assets distributed and can also include guardianship preferences for minor children. Without a will, your estate will be distributed according to Florida’s intestacy laws.
  • Consider a Trust: Trusts can offer more control over asset distribution and can help avoid probate, which is a publicly recorded and sometimes lengthy process. There are different types of trusts (for example, revocable versus irrevocable).  Therefore, it is important to choose one that aligns with your needs.
  • Designate Beneficiaries: Ensure that all your accounts with beneficiary designations (like retirement accounts and life insurance policies) are updated. These designations often supersede instructions in the will and trust documents.
  • Establish Power of Attorney: Designate someone to handle your financial and legal affairs if you become incapacitated. This is crucial for managing your estate when you are unable to do so yourself.
  • Healthcare Directives: Draft a living will (also known as a form of an advance healthcare directive) and designate a Healthcare Surrogate to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to communicate your wishes.
  • Consult an Estate Planning Attorney: Estate planning can be complex, and Florida has some unique laws, as we discussed above. An attorney can help navigate these complexities and ensure that your estate plan is valid and effective.
  • Review and Update Regularly: Life changes, such as marriage, divorce, birth of children, or acquiring significant assets, can impact your estate plan. Review it regularly and update it as needed.

If you begin early in the new year, you will have a sufficient amount of time to consider your options, consult professionals, and put a comprehensive plan in place. It is important to remember that estate planning is not just for the wealthy. It is an advisable process for anyone who wants to manage their affairs responsibly and ease the burden on their loved ones in the future. Verras Law has offices in Palm Harbor, Tampa, and St. Petersburg, Florida, and has experienced attorneys who can help you with your estate planning.  Contact our office for an initial consultation.