Many Florida residents who contemplate estate planning fall into one of two broad categories. While some have a variety of different assets and don't know where to start, others feel that they have very few and don't think an estate plan is worth the trouble. The reality is that everyone can benefit from having a plan in place. And while distributing one's accumulated assets to beneficiaries according to one's wishes is a primary goal, there are other benefits a well-crafted estate plan can provide.
When organizing paperwork and thoughts for an estate plan, financial experts often recommend beginning with powers of attorney designations. Typically, one is created for financial and business purposes and another for health care decisions. In each case, the designated person will act and make decisions in the event of a temporary incapacitation. In this sense, an estate plan protects the individual during his or her lifetime as well as provides post-death direction benefiting the heirs.
In terms of ensuring the proper distribution of assets, it's usually preferable to have a living trust in addition to a will. While a will can sufficiently direct proper distribution, assets that are owned solely in the decedent's name at the time of death will require the opening of probate to pass to the designated beneficiary. Probate is expensive and public in nature. If the assets instead were held in a living trust, probate could be avoided.
An estate planning lawyer can also explain the process by which assets held jointly or in accounts with pay-on-death beneficiary designations can similarly avoid probate. Once an estate plan is in place, it should be updated as necessary to reflect changing circumstances.