A will is an important tool for estate planning, but it cannot handle everything
When you start planning for what happens after you die, creating a will is one of the most important things you should do. Without a will, your state of residence will determine how your affairs will be handled and your assets distributed after you die. A will allows you to provide important directions for how to settle your affairs and is usually the best way to perform the following important tasks:
- Appoint a Personal Representative (executor) to administer your probate estate
- Designate how to divide assets
- Designate a legal guardian for your minor children or a child with special needs
- Specify general care for your pets (without a gift of money)
- Specifically exclude relatives from any inheritance
- Designate what will happen to any remaining property after legal claims and taxes are paid
Most people think of a Last Will as only distributing property. However, a Last Will only applies to assets you own in your individual name that do not have a designated beneficiary. Instructions for jointly owned assets or assets with beneficiaries designations will not be controlled by the terms of your will.
6 things that do not belong in a will
Not all your wishes and directions belong in a will. Here are six things you should not put in your will:
- Gifts for illegal purpose or illegal conditions. Including any gift of money with an illegal condition or purpose can make your entire will invalid. So, don’t leave instructions that would cause someone else to violate the law. For example, you cannot leave your prescription drugs or stolen goods to a relative. Unlawful conditions include making a gift dependent on the recipient changing their marital status or religion.
- Funeral instructions. Wills must go through the probate process to settle the estate. Estate administration doesn’t begin until after the funeral. You can (and should) create a separate document that states your final wishes regarding your cremation, burial and/or memorial and give it to your Personal Representative.
- Care for special needs person. Though you may designate a guardian for your children in your will, a separate special needs trust is the best tool to use to provide lifetime care for a person with a disability or special needs. Special needs trusts are designed to protect government benefit eligibility and the care requirements for people with special needs.
- Life Insurance. Life insurance, retirement plans and other financial accounts can name a specific designated beneficiary. Proceeds of these accounts go directly to the beneficiary without probate.If your will contains trusts for minor or others, get advice from your estate planning and elder law attorney about the best way to name a beneficiary for your life insurance.
- Jointly held property. Property owned by more than one person as joint tenants with rights of survivorship passes directly to the surviving owner regardless of the wishes expressed in your will. So, if you and your spouse own a home together, your spouse will automatically own the entire home when you die.
- Care for pets. Animals are considered property; therefore, they cannot own or inherit property. You can create a written action plan that identifies pet caregivers who agree to be responsible for your pet if you die or become incapacitated. More importantly, if you plan on providing lifetime care for your pet, consider a pet trust to ensure your pet is protected.Visit www.AnimalCareTrustUSA.org for more information on protecting your loved pet.
Wills are just one of many estate planning tools you need to consider. An experienced and board certified Florida estate planning and elder law lawyer can help you create a will and other documents you need to protect your family if you die or become incapacitated.
Contact our estate planning law firm to create a personalized estate plan
The Law Offices of Hoyt & Bryan offers complete and comprehensive estate planning services. We listen to you and create an estate plan with a Last Will, Living Trust, Pet Trust and other tools appropriate for you and your family. We create on-going personal relationships with our Central Florida clients. As your life changes, we’ll help you keep your estate plan up to date. Call us today at (407) 977-8080, or contact us online to speak with an experienced and board certified estate planning lawyer in Florida.