Estate planning is the process of creating documents that legally determine how your assets will be distributed after your death, including who inherits, who controls the distribution of your assets, and when your beneficiaries receive your assets.
The first step estate planning is to account for all of your property, such as real estate, personal property, life insurance, bank accounts, retirement plans, securities, and business interests. Once you have an accurate picture of what is in your estate, you can easily make decisions about who should inherit your assets and how.
To create your directions for distribution to whom you want and how you want, typically you will work with an attorney to draft one of two types of documents – a Will or a Revocable Living Trust.
- A Will, or Last Will and Testament, is the fundamental piece of any estate plan. A will functions to provide your instructions for distributing the assets you own individually or share ownership as tenants in common when you pass away. A will can also work in conjunction with a Revocable Living Trust at your death to “pour over” any assets that you did not transfer to the trust during your lifetime.
- A Revocable Living Trust is an alternative in many ways to a will. A trust is a legal agreement where you transfer your assets to a trustee who holds title to the assets on behalf of someone else (your “beneficiary”). A beneficiary can be you, your spouse, your children, or others. A Revocable Living Trust allows you to transfer all (or part) of your assets during your lifetime into a trust to be held on behalf of your beneficiaries. You can name yourself or another person or institution to serve as Trustee, depending on who you want to manage your assets. As a revocable trust, you usually can change the terms of the trust and who the beneficiaries are at any time before you pass away.
What is a living trust? A trust is a formal agreement you make with a trusted person, or trustee, to convey property as directed by you. A living trust is a trust that you create during your lifetime. These documents are in effect regardless of whether or not they contain property until your death.
Perhaps the greatest asset to utilizing a living trust is the ability to avoid probate because they pass to beneficiaries under the terms of the trust and not a will. Probate is the court system in which a person’s affairs are wrapped up subsequent to their death. Probate is costly, lengthy, and unnecessary for most estates. By dividing your property in a living trust, you are able to avoid this process and future headache for your loved ones. Property can be distributed to beneficiaries after the death of the grantor without incurring any fees or court interference.
Another benefit of a living trust is that it remains private. The contents of a will become a public document. Many people choose this route to keep their affairs private. Also, while wills can be challenged through lawsuits, it is infinitely more difficult to attack a living trust.
Unlike wills, however, a living trust requires the signature and stamp of a notary public. Also, while a will can appear in any format, property left through a living trust must be first transferred into the trust. For items such as real estate, which include title documents, retitling must occur so that the owner of the property is the trust.
WHY A WILL THEN?
You might be asking yourself, if I have a living trust, then why is creating a will even necessary? Make no mistake, wills are vital documents to include in your estate plan. First, a will is the primary estate planning document which regulates your wishes in regard to your inheritance and guardianship. A will can pass on certain rights that a trust cannot. It is only in a will that you can name legal guardians for children, as well as someone to manage any properties left to or earned by minors.
A will also gives you the right to name an executor who will be in charge of wrapping up your estate after your death. That person communicates with the court, pays your bills, and eventually distributes any property that has to first pass through probate. Living trusts do not allow for an executor, and rather names a successor trustee who will solely manage the property left through that trust.
A will also gives you the ability to leave instructions regarding how you want your debts and taxes to be paid, as well as forgive any debts owed to you. Wills are far simpler to create and require only the presence of two witnesses who will not receive anything under the will.
Both a living trust and a will help the process of divvying up your estate and can each accomplish different tasks to make the entire ordeal less harrowing for your beneficiaries. However, keep in mind that a living trust and a will are not the only estate planning documents a person may need. There are several other estate planning documents which may be right for you and your goals, such as a Power of Attorney, Living Will, HIPAA Release, a property deed, and more. To create the most comprehensive estate plan which accounts for each of your wishes and goals for your estate, you should consult with an experienced estate planning attorney, who will counsel you on the best options for you and your estate.
The presence of experienced and knowledgeable attorneys is vital to the process. The attorneys at The Orlando Law Group represent and prepare estate planning documents for individuals throughout Orlando, Waterford Lakes, Altamonte Springs, Winter Garden, Lake Nona, St. Cloud, Kissimmee, and throughout central Florida.
If you are dealing with an estate planning issue or are looking to establish your own estate plan, please reach out to our office at 407-512-4394, fill out our online contact form.
If you have questions about anything discussed in this article or other legal matters, give our office a call at 407-512-4394 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 12301 Lake Underhill Rd, Suite 213, Orlando, FL 32828, as well as offices in Seminole, Osceola and West Orange counties to assist you.
Last Updated on February 18, 2023 by The Orlando Law Group