20 year anniversary: Proudly serving the community since 1993 - Spiro J. Verras

Although no one enjoys contemplating death or disability, establishing an estate plan will help ensure your well-being, protect your assets, and secure the rights of your loved ones. Whether at our main office in Palm Harbor or at our by-appointment offices in the Hyde Park neighborhood of South Tampa and in downtown St. Petersburg, the attorneys at Verras Law assist clients throughout the Tampa Bay area with all aspects of estate planning, including the preparation of wills, revocable and irrevocable trusts, powers of attorney, living wills, designations of health care surrogates, pre-need designations of guardians, and other estate planning documents. Our attorneys have extensive knowledge of the related state and federal laws, and are experienced in handling Florida probate proceedings and trust administration. We combine the sophistication of a large law firm with the personal attention of a small law office.

Do I Need an Estate Plan?

Many individuals mistakenly believe they do not need an estate plan because they are too young, do not have a lot of assets, are not married, or do not have children. In reality, every individual, regardless of their age, finances, or family status, is well-advised to have an estate plan in place.

At Verras Law, we will work closely with you to identify and address crucial issues in planning your estate, such as who will inherit your assets, who is capable of handling your financial affairs, and who is best-suited to make medical decisions if you become incapacitated. A comprehensive estate plan can also enable you to select guardians for your minor children (or for yourself if you are incapacitated), avoid or streamline the probate of your estate, and minimize your heirs’ potential liability for estate and other taxes. For those who own or manage a small business or have a professional practice, it is especially important to protect the business with a well-thought-out succession plan. If you fail to make the necessary legal arrangements, the courts will make decisions about managing your assets in a way that may not agree with your wishes.

Essential Estate Planning Documents: Wills, Trusts, and Advance Directives

Our lawyers are dedicated to understanding the complete picture of your personal circumstances, financial situation, and objectives in order to design a comprehensive estate plan that suits your needs. We have extensive experience preparing a variety of estate planning documents including wills and trusts, durable powers of attorney, advance medical directives or health-care proxies, and living wills.

When a human being dies, what becomes of the property the person owned while they were alive? Each state has laws that govern the disposition of those assets, and if you do not prepare a will, it is those laws that will decide how and to whom the property is distributed.

A person who dies without a Last Will & Testament is legally characterized as intestate. In order to dispose of an intestate person’s property, the probate courts will need first to determine the deceased’s personal situation, and follow the family tree under the state’s intestacy laws: Was the deceased married? Did he have children? If so, exactly how many did he have and where are they? If they are minors, who will be their guardian? If the deceased had no children, are his parents still alive? If not, did he have siblings and if so, exactly how many did he have and where are they?

Answering all these questions in a probate proceeding can be a long and expensive process, and results can be contrary to what the deceased may have wanted. It also is vulnerable to probate litigation by heirs with competing agendas, who can quickly consume the assets of the estate in legal fees. A will helps avoid this process because it says, in effect: “This is who I am, this my family situation, and this is what I want to happen to my property when I die.”

We believe that every adult should at least have a simple will. A will is the fundamental tool used transfer your assets according to your wishes and it also allows you to select the personal representative who will be responsible for carrying out those wishes. A will is can also designate a guardian for minor children. If you have a properly prepared and executed will, you will not be intestate when you die. However, please note that certain life situations can invalidate or “pretermit” an otherwise valid will. For example, marriage and divorce can undue the planning in a previously prepared will. Consequently, even a simple will should be periodically reviewed with your estate planning attorney.

A person who dies with a valid Last Will & Testament is legally characterized as testate. A testate probate is less complex than an intestate probate because the will answers most of the questions left unanswered by an intestate death, and because the will, not state law, decides who gets what. Nonetheless, because a will only becomes effective after it has been admitted and probated in court, and because the probate process includes serving notices on beneficiaries and creditors and time delays in accordance with the probate code, even a routine testate probate can take from several months to over a year.

If the delay and expense of probate is a problem, the simplest way to avoid probate is to take advantage of another estate planning tool: a trust.

A well-designed revocable living trust should take title to your property while you are alive and allow you to continue managing your affairs during your lifetime, while containing a plan for a change in management if you die or are incapacitated. While you are alive, you can revoke, restate, or amend your trust as many times as you like.

A fully-funded trust avoids probate because, when you die, you don’t own anything. Instead, all of your property is owned by your trust, which continues to exist, albeit with a new trustee who cannot change its terms. Instead, the trust document requires the successor trustee to pay your bills and your taxes and then to distributed your assets in the manner you instructed. Therefore, by establishing – and funding – a trust, you can reduce the delay and cost normally associated with probate. Furthermore, because the administration of a trust occurs outside direct court supervision, it generally makes estate litigation more expensive and difficult for heirs who are unhappy with their bequests. Finally, unlike a will, the original of which will be publicly filed in court, a trust is a private document that is not filed in court. In most cases, no one except its beneficiaries will know who received what from your estate.

In addition to having a will, or a will and revocable trust, in place, it is also important to plan for incapacity by establishing a durable power of attorney that allows someone to manage your affairs for you if you become disabled in the future. Further, a designation of health care surrogate or healthcare proxy, also referred to as an advanced medical directive, can designate an individual to make health care decisions if you are not able to make those decisions for yourself.  Finally, a living will declares your preferred medical treatment in the event that you become terminally ill or permanently physically and/or mentally incapacitated and cannot communicate decisions regarding your treatment. To be effective, these documents should contain or be accompanied by a HIPAA authorization to allow for the release of medical information between health care providers and to agents, successor trustees, family members and other designees. If you fail to designate someone to manage your affairs or make your health care decisions now when you are able to do so, it may become necessary for a court to appoint a guardian of your person or your property when you are unable to decide for yourself in the future.

Serving Tampa, St Petersburg and Palm Harbor with Integrity and Compassion

Verras Law works with clients in the Tampa Bay area to establish estate plans that will easily provide for their loved ones and help avoid guardianship during their lifetime and reduce the likelihood of probate and estate litigation at death.  A well-designed estate plan will also help arrange for the care of minor children in the event of incapacity or death and to provide a strategy for long-term care so that our clients can age with dignity and prevent the courts from intervening and making decisions for them. By offering our knowledge and compassion, we can help to establish an estate plan that will put your mind at ease. If you have questions about planning for your current or future needs, call our office today at (727) 493-2900.

Attorney Spiro Verras Interviewed by Michael Chen for Hack Your Wealth: