Estate planning is a complicated process that involves more than just the drafting of a will. If you want to ensure that all of your last wishes are carried out, you will need these nine essential estate planning documents.
Here are the 9 Essential Estate Planning Documents You Need in Florida
1. Last Will and Testament
A last will and testament is one of the most important estate planning documents because it outlines your final wishes. If you have assets or possessions that you’d like to leave to certain family members, friends or charities, you can express these wishes in your will.
In your last will and testament, you can determine:
- Who will take custody of your dependent children
- What will happen to any real estate that you own
- How your cash assets will be distributed
- Who will inherit certain family heirlooms
Simply put, this written legal document gives you control over who gets what after your death.
A last will and testament is the foundation of an estate plan, and it is one of the most important tools you have in ensuring your estate is settled in the way you desire.
Without a will, the state will decide how your assets and possessions will be distributed.
2. Preneed Guardian Designation
Did you know that if you fail to name someone as your guardian, that the court could appoint someone that you do not know or have never met to make medical and financial decisions for you? A Preneed guardian designation names someone to act on your behalf in the event that your durable power of attorney and health care surrogate designations fail.
Who will care for your dependent child if both you and the child’s other parent should die? If you do not appoint a guardian in your estate plan, the state could make this decision for you.
Your appointment of guardianship documents should include a first and second choice. If possible, include more alternatives just in case your other choices are unable to fulfill the obligation.
3. Advance Healthcare Directive
If you become incapacitated and cannot make your own medical decisions, an advance healthcare directive will ensure that your last wishes are carried out. Among all of your estate planning documents, an advance healthcare directive (AD) is one of the most important.
An Advanced Directive is a written legal document that outlines your instructions about your medical care if you become incapacitated.
With an advanced directive, you can:
- Name a health care agent, also known as Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Your appointed agent will have the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. An agent can be anyone you wish.
- Provide instructions for your health care. With an advanced directive, you can provide written instructions for your future medical care, including life-sustaining treatment if you are permanently unconscious or terminally ill.
Although these are difficult and uncomfortable decisions to make, an advanced directive can help prevent future disputes and ensure that your health care wishes are carried out.
4. Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney allows you to appoint a person to make financial decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated and unable to make these decisions on your own.
The agent you appoint will have the authority to step in and make financial decisions for you, such as:
- Pay your bills
- Maintain your mortgage
- Sell any real estate on your behalf
- Oversee your investments
Without a durable power of attorney, no one will be able to make these decisions on your behalf unless a court appoints a guardian or conservator. The court process of appointing a guardian can be lengthy and expensive. The judge may not choose the person you would have named.
5. Revocable Living Trust
A revocable living trust, also known as a living trust, can be used as an alternative to a living will and testament. Much like a will, a living trust dictates your last wishes, but it also dictates what happens if you become incapacitated and allows you to transfer assets to the trust while you are living.
While you are living, you – the trustmaker – have the right to undo the trust (hence the term “revocable”). You may reclaim any assets that you transferred to the trust, sell the assets, or place more assets into the trust.
A living trust also outlines what will happen if you become incapacitated and can no longer manage your own affairs. You may appoint a successor trustee to step in and manage your affairs on your behalf.
Upon your death, your revocable living trust becomes irrevocable. At this point, the successor trustee steps in and carries out your last wishes as outlined by you.
Living trusts offer some advantages over wills. One of the primary advantages is that the details of your estate remain private. A revocable living trust may also be used to avoid probate, which can be a costly and time-consuming process.
6. Letter of Instruction
A letter of instruction, also known as a letter of intent, is a document in which you can express your wishes about your funeral arrangements, medical care, or even the distribution of your assets and property. Think of a letter of intent as a way to communicate some of your wishes to your loved ones after your death.
A letter of instruction is not legally binding, but it can be used to give direction to your executor. Because this is not a legal document, you may use it to send messages to your loved ones.
7. Beneficiary Designations
A designated beneficiary is the person who will inherit the balance of an account, a life insurance payout or an annuity.
Beneficiary designations ensure that life insurance payouts, account balance and annuities are inherited by the people of your choosing. You may name multiple beneficiaries if you wish as well as multiple secondary beneficiaries.
8. List of Important Documents
Make sure that your family members can find your estate planning documents and other important documents they will need to settle your affairs. Creating a list of these documents and their locations will make it easier for loved ones to carry out your last wishes.
- Important documents include:
- Bank accounts
- Life insurance policies
- Birth certificates
- Real estate deeds
- Retirement accounts
9. Provision of Digital Assets
In today’s digital world, it’s important to include a provision for your digital assets when planning your estate. Digital assets can include:
- Website domain names
- Electronically stored videos and photos
- Social media accounts
If your estate plan doesn’t include a provision of digital assets, your loved ones may not be able to access your social media accounts, photos, videos, emails and other digital items after your death.
How to Prepare Your Estate Planning Documents
Gathering the necessary information is something you can do on your own, but preparing the estate planning documents is not something you should handle yourself.
A simple oversight can end up costing your estate thousands of dollars in probate costs or create unnecessary tax liabilities for your beneficiaries. The best course of action is preparing your estate planning documents with an experienced Florida estate lawyer.