As we embark on a new year, it is an opportune time to reconsider our estate planning strategies, particularly focusing on Florida probate avoidance. Many individuals mistakenly believe that a last will and testament is sufficient to bypass the probate process. However, this is a common misconception. To truly ensure a smooth and efficient transfer of assets at the time of your passing, considering alternatives such as a trust agreement is essential.

We know this may cause confusion and want to help you understand the limits of a will-based estate plan. There is no mistake that a last will and testament is a fundamental component of estate planning. It can outline your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets and the care of any minor children. A will alone, however, does not avoid probate. 

Probate in Florida is the legal process through which a deceased person’s will is validated and their estate is administered.  During the start of the probate process both known creditors are contacted and heirs are informed of what will happen under the will.  This process can be time-consuming, expensive, and public, which is why many seek ways to circumvent it.

One of the purposes of using a trust agreement as a part of your estate can be to avoid probate.  Your trust is a legal arrangement where assets are held by a third party, the trustee, for the benefit of others, often the beneficiaries. The key advantage of a trust is that assets within a trust are not subject to probate. This means they can be distributed to beneficiaries without the delays and costs associated with the probate process.

There are various types of trusts, but they generally fall into two categories: revocable and irrevocable. A revocable trust allows you to retain control over the assets during your lifetime and make changes as needed. An irrevocable trust, however, once established, in most circumstances cannot be altered, offering potential tax benefits and protection against creditors. This is something you will want to discuss with your experienced estate planning attorney to obtain their guidance and discuss the use of both of these types of trusts to reach your goals.  

Bear in mind that creating a trust agreement is the first step. To be effective, the trust also must be properly funded. This means transferring assets such as real estate, bank accounts, and investments into the trust agreement. Unfortunately, failure to fund the trust adequately can result in those assets going through probate, defeating the purpose of the trust.

As an estate planning law firm, we know navigating the complexities of trust agreements and estate planning is not a do-it-yourself task. Taking the time to work with an experienced estate planning attorney is crucial. Your attorney can provide tailored advice based on your specific circumstances, help you understand the different types of trusts available, and ensure that your trust is properly structured and funded so your goals can be reached.

In conclusion, while a last will and testament is a vital document, it alone does not avoid probate. A well-structured and adequately funded trust agreement can provide a more efficient and private transfer of assets. As we step into the new year, it’s an ideal time to review your estate planning strategy with a professional to ensure your and your family’s future financial security.

We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. At Perlin Estate Planning & Probate our credentials enable us to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to our legal services.  By building relationships with our clients, we are also able to understand each client’s needs and desires, and we support such goals through thoughtful, comprehensive planning techniques. We encourage you to contact us and schedule a meeting.