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Florida Estate Planning Checklist: Understanding the Basics

estate planning checklist

Estate planning is crucial, no matter the size of your estate. While not the most interesting thing to do, especially since it gets you thinking about your death or potential incapacitation, it’s always safe to get your affairs in order, should the unfortunate happen. If you are a Sunshine State resident wondering where to start, we have shared our estate planning checklist to help you understand the process basics.

Ideally, estate planning is the process of documenting your assets and wishes regarding those assets and their distribution upon your death, or their management in the event of your incapacitation. In so doing, you protect your beneficiaries’ future should you depart too early. At the same time, planning your estate saves your heirs from paying hefty probate fees or estate taxes or avoiding conflicts over the inheritance.

Not forgetting, you also get to benefit, especially if you get incapacitated or require end-of-life care and are not in a position to make the decisions about your health. In this case, your medical directive saves your loved ones from the stress of making difficult decisions concerning your health.

Generally, planning your estate involves auditing your assets and designating beneficiaries, then drafting essential legal documents to capture the information. Before we look at the documents you need to create as part of your estate plan, let’s first break down the process.

Estate Planning Checklist: Essential Steps

  1. Consult an estate planning expert for guidance (estate planning attorney, financial advisor, tax advisor, etc.)
  2. Identify your goals, e.g., providing for your family in your absence, protecting your estate from probate and taxes, guaranteeing smooth management of your affairs in case of incapacitation, planning for end-of-life care, etc.
  3. Take inventory of your assets and liabilities, e.g., bank accounts, insurance policies, stocks, mutual funds, retirement accounts, real estate, vehicles, collectibles, financial obligations (loans), etc.
  4. Decide how you want the assets distributed
  5. Identify beneficiaries, guardians, trustees, etc.
  6. Establish legal directives (create documents)
  7. Perform regular updates to capture changes such as a new child, marital status changes, regulation amendments, etc.

A Checklist of Important Estate Planning Legal Documents

Once you complete the initial estate planning steps, you need to get on to your next checklist, which is creating the necessary documents to capture your wishes. Preparing most of these legal documents may require the help of an estate planning attorney. However, if you only have a few assets that wouldn’t justify incurring the expense of professional services, you could benefit from estate planning tools available online. For instance, you can get simple will or power of attorney templates online and complete them easily.

Otherwise, let’s go through the essential documents you need to plan your estate.

Last Will

A will is a legal document that stipulates how your assets should be distributed after you die. Essentially, everyone should have a will regardless of the size of their estate. Among other things, the document should identify the heirs, appoint a guardian (in case of minor children), and name the executor.

Note that a will must go through a court process (probate) for the executor to be authorized to distribute the assets.

Power of Attorney

It’s also important to grant someone you trust power of attorney to manage your affairs should you be incapable of doing so. For instance, if you get incapacitated and unable to communicate your wishes, someone with a power of attorney can oversee your affairs until you get better.

There are different powers of attorney, hence you should create the one that best fits your interests. For instance, if you plan to have someone run your affairs in case of incapacity, , you may need to create a durable power of attorney.

Another option may include creating a limited power of attorney whereby you appoint someone to perform specific roles in your absence.

Healthcare Proxy (Medical Directive)

A medical directive appoints a representative to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated and unable to communicate your wishes. It’s a type of power of attorney but only limited to medical decisions.

Living Will

Instead of creating a healthcare proxy and leaving your medical decisions in the hands of someone else, you can opt to make the directives yourself then appoint someone to execute them. This is referred to as a living will and is often created to cater to end-of-life care wishes.

Living Trust

Trust involves making a legal arrangement whereby you pass the management of your assets to a trustee to manage them on behalf of beneficiaries. With a living trust, you can continue to manage the assets while you’re alive then appoint a successor trustee to take over if you die.

Mainly, there are two basic types of trusts – revocable and irrevocable. Under the revocable trust, you retain control of the assets and can change the terms of the agreement at any time. But with the irrevocable trust, the assets cease to be a part of your estate upon transfer. Hence, you cannot make changes without the consent of the beneficiaries.

If your estate planning goal is to safeguard your estate from hefty taxes upon your death, then setting an irrevocable trust helps with this. Again, transferring the assets to the trust (revocable and irrevocable) helps avoid probate, enabling your beneficiaries to receive their inheritance much easier and faster.

Conclusion

Estate planning is a vital process, no matter your age or the size of your estate. With a comprehensive estate plan that captures all your assets and financial obligations, plus clear directives about their management or distribution, you can go about your life with peace of mind, knowing your loved ones are protected should something happen.

If you didn’t know where to start planning your estate, we hope this checklist has equipped you with the basics you need to commence the process.

Contact us right away to discuss your personal estate planning needs.