The only certainties in life are death and taxes, and a well-drafted Florida Wills ensures that you and your loved ones are prepared for both. While it is an unpleasant thought for many people, the sober reality is that failing to plan for the inevitable could jeopardize your legacy and the well-being of your friends and family. That is why it is crucial to consult with an Estate Planning Lawyer from Jurado & Associates, P.A. to prepare an effective strategy in advance. This will often include drafting a Florida Will.
The Basics of a Florida Wills
A Last Will and Testament, simply known as a Will, is a legal document that sets forth how your assets will be managed and distributed when you pass away.
The person making the Will, known as the testator, provides instructions as to what assets go to which persons (the beneficiaries). The Will also names an individual to serve as the “executor,” or “personal representative,” of the estate (which represents all the assets left behind at death). This is the person responsible for carrying out your last wishes in accordance with the Will.
Most importantly, the personal representative will be charged with guiding your estate through probate, the court-supervised process that “proves” the validity of your Will and ensures it is properly executed. Probate can be a long and drawn-out affair, especially if there are issues or ambiguities with your Will.
Most assets held exclusively in your name generally go through probate, which is why it is crucial to plan ahead and ensure your Will is as clear and comprehensive as possible. For similar reasons, you must be careful about who you choose as personal representative, given the great responsibilities they will have.
Fortunately, Jurado & Associates has experienced Florida probate attorneys who can help your personal representative throughout the process. Our Estate Planning Lawyers will assist you in minimizing the impact of probate on your estate, and can even find ways to circumvent the process altogether.
How is a Florida Wills Made?
As the manifestation of your final wishes, a Will can address any number of issues and concerns tailored to your specific circumstances.
For example, you may name a secondary beneficiary to inherit an asset in case the primary beneficiary predeceases you. Likewise, you may designate one or more individuals as “successor” executors in the event the initial designee is unable or unwilling to fulfill the role.
Your Will can detail the executor’s powers and responsibilities when settling your estate, name a guardian to care for your minor children until adulthood, and designate a conservator to manage any assets bequeathed to your children.
Notwithstanding its formal name as a Last Will and Testament, a Florida Will can be amended or even revoked for as long as you are mentally competent. Such amendments, known as “codicils,” provide you with the flexibility and peace of mind to change your final plans to reflect any changed circumstances, preferences, or relationships.
However, while you have broad discretion to draft or modify your Will almost any way you want, there are still several “formalities” under Florida law that must be met for the Will to be valid.
For starters, the testator must be of sound mind and at least 18 years old to make a Florida Will. If there are facts or credible claims suggesting you were not mentally competent when you drafted your Will, this may lead to disputes contesting its validity.
A Florida Will must also be in writing—an oral Will, even if recognized in another jurisdiction, will not be accepted in Florida. The testator must sign the document in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the will in each other’s presence and in the presence of the testator. Any Will failing to meet these requirements will be found invalid by a Florida court.
What Happens if the Will is Invalid?
If you die without a Will, or you Will is ruled invalid, your estate will undergo “intestate” succession. This means that your assets will be distributed according to the Florida Laws of Intestacy—in short, you will have no say over who receives your assets, meaning some loved ones will be left with nothing.
Intestate succession can be a complicated process. By default, your surviving spouse inherits all the assets, even if you also leave behind children. If you have no spouse but are survived by your children, they inherit everything. The line of succession goes done the list of direct relatives, and does not include aunts, uncles, cousins, or friends. If no heirs can be located, the assets go to the State of Florida.
Needless to say, this arrangement will be problematic if you have close family and friends to whom you wish to bequeath assets but who are left out of intestacy rules. That is why it is crucial to meet with an Estate Planning Lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your options and have your Will properly drafted and executed pursuant to Florida law.
How an Estate Planning Lawyer from Jurado & Associates Can Help
As a legal document, a Will should be prepared, drafted, and executed with the help of an experienced Estate Planning Lawyer. Nothing should be left to chance when it comes to managing your hard-earned assets and looking after your loved ones.
Our firm knows the importance of Wills and other Estate Planning tools all too well. We have worked with numerous clients to devise the most effective strategies for their estate. We will work with you on an individual level to understand your needs, circumstances, and goals. Our understanding of Florida law is matched only by our dedication to the best interests of our clients.