Since this is the season of giving and charity, here’s a little gift to you, coming straight from the legal tree of knowledge. There are some legal documents that will make the perfect holiday gift for your family. Although you can’t wrap it up and put it under the Christmas tree or Hanukkah bush, it is one of the few gifts that will keep on giving.
We are specifically referring to estate planning documents that will preserve your wealth, safeguard your minor kids, and allow you to provide for your loved ones once you are gone. Hey, it’s a Wonderful Life, But It is Going to End! Those individuals who have experienced a messy probate proceeding understand what I mean. Even if you haven’t experienced a messy probate, you should know that having an estate plan protects your family in so many ways. Here are some of the most important ways a good plan will protect your children:
Avoid Fights by Appointing a Guardian for your Minor Children.
If you have minor children (those under 18 years of age in Florida), it is imperative that you (and your spouse) name a guardian to physically and financially take care of your children if something happens to you. This designation can be done within your Last Will and Testament (“Will”) or in a separate document called a “Declaration Naming Pre-Need Guardian for Minor.” Putting your wishes in writing reduces lawsuits that arise over custody (often involving both sets of grandparents) in cases of your sudden or unexpected death.
Avoid Power Struggles by Appointing a Back-Up You.
Once you are no longer on this earth, you can still manage your assets by appointing a Successor Trustee in your Revocable Trust or a Personal Representative in your Will. Both Wills and Trusts are used to designate who should receive your assets upon your death. The people or charities you designate are called beneficiaries. Revocable Trusts allow you to appoint someone as your successor Trustee after you pass away and can no longer serve as Trustee. This person will be responsible for distributing all your assets according to the terms of your Trust. Likewise, Wills allow you to appoint someone to become “Personal Representative” of your estate. This person will be responsible for carrying out your last wishes according to what you wrote in your Will. To learn the differences between Wills and Trusts, it is best to seek a consultation with an estate planning attorney who can explain the nuances based on Florida law.
Avoid Losing Control of your Finances.
If you pass away without having any estate planning documents in place, the state of Florida determines who receives your assets based on the rules of intestate succession. Essentially this means a Judge will distribute your assets based on the Florida rules determining who is your next of kin. You (or your family members) have no say in who receives what and how much. The only way to make sure your wishes are properly carried out is to create a Will or a Trust dictating how your assets will be handled after your death.
Avoid Awful Decisions for your Loved Ones.
One of the worst cases we have seen is a client having to decide whether to continue giving her mother, who was in a coma, life-sustaining treatments even when the doctors said they would only prolong her mother’s death. That is a horrible position to find yourself in. The client never spoke to her mother about this topic and her mother did not have a Living Will. It was up to the client and her siblings to make that decision. They had different opinions on this matter and familial fighting ensued. Had their mother created a Living Will and Designation of Health Care Surrogate, also known as a health care directive, they could have simply implemented what their mother wanted instead of guessing what she would have wanted.
Avoid Student Loans for your Children
A 529 plan is one of the IRS’s rare, drawback-free gifts to the taxpayer. The 529 form is a savings plan that gives you tax breaks for saving up for your child’s education. 529 forms are also called “qualified tuition plans.” These qualified tuition plans benefit both you and your child. Your child’s college financing will get a head start, while you aren’t saddled with a huge tax bill for saving up. This is an excellent present that will pay off in the long run.
While we are not suggesting you get these legal documents in lieu of Harry Potter, Pokemon, or Baby Shark, your children will certainly thank you for it later. Similar to setting up your holiday decorations, creating an estate plan is something that turns out better with help. We suggest working with our experienced estate planning attorneys. However, it can also be a good idea to involve your family in the estate planning process for their input. Contact OC Estate & Elder Law at (954) 251-0332 or email@example.com to learn how effective estate planning will be the best gift this season.