As we continue into a new year, many of us want to organize our affairs, and a key part of this is effective Florida estate planning. You can accomplish so much to both protect yourself during life and your family at the time of your passing through estate planning. Yet, today, still less than half of all Americans have an estate plan.

Whether you know it or not, as a resident of the state of FLorida, there is a plan for your estate. It just may not be one you intended to follow based on your own wishes. These are called the intestacy laws and, the only way to plan around them, is to create your own estate planning. Without a Florida estate plan in place, there is a high likelihood that your estate may go through probate at the time of your death. 

Probate is the legal process of transferring your assets after death. Unfortunately, it can be time-consuming, expensive, and public. The good news is that there are several strategies to minimize or even bypass probate, ensuring a smoother transition of your estate to your beneficiaries. Let us share a few practical steps you can take to avoid probate and keep your estate matters both private and reflective of what you want.

  1. Create a revocable trust. A cornerstone of avoiding probate is establishing a revocable trust agreement. When you work with your Florida estate planning attorney to place your assets in a trust, you maintain control over them during your lifetime and dictate how they are distributed after your death. Assets in a trust bypass the probate process entirely, going directly to the beneficiaries you have named. The beauty of a revocable trust is that it is flexible, which means you can change its terms at any time while you are alive and competent.
  2. Consider designating beneficiaries on accounts. Many financial accounts, including retirement accounts, allow you to name beneficiaries who will receive the assets directly upon your death, avoiding probate. These are often known as payable-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) designations. It is crucial to keep these designations up-to-date to reflect your current wishes and to review them regularly, especially after major life changes like marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child. You also want to discuss them with your Florida estate planning attorney to learn which assets should be funded into your trust, and which should not.
  3. Make a decision about joint ownership of property. Holding property jointly can be an effective way to ensure it passes directly to the surviving owner, bypassing probate. This is particularly common among married couples through joint tenancy with the right of survivorship or tenancy by the entirety. It is essential to understand how these designations work and the implications for your estate, as the laws can vary significantly from one state to another. Your Florida estate planning attorney will be able to share the pros, as well as the cons, as using this probate avoidance strategy.
  4. Give away your property during your lifetime. One straightforward way to reduce your probate estate is to give away property while you are still alive. You can significantly reduce the size of your estate, and the associated probate process as well as possible end of life taxation, by making gifts. However, be aware of the IRS rules regarding gift tax exclusions and the lifetime gift tax exemption. Your Florida estate planning attorney will be able to help you navigate these rules effectively.
  5. Regularly update your estate plan. An effective Florida estate plan is not a one-time effort but a dynamic strategy that reflects your current circumstances and wishes. Life changes, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of children, or significant changes in your asset portfolio, should trigger a review and, if necessary, an update of your estate plan. This ensures that your estate planning documents, including your will, trusts, and beneficiary designations, align with your current intentions.

Do not wait until it is too late to start thinking about how to efficiently transfer your assets. Avoiding probate is a common and achievable goal in Florida estate planning. The start of a new year is an excellent time to review your estate plan or create one if you have not already. Our experienced Florida estate planning attorneys are ready to help you create a personalized strategy that fits your unique situation and goals.

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.