Ft. Lauderdale, situated in Broward County, is one of the world’s premier tourist destinations. Port Everglades is the world’s third-largest cruise port, for example, and Ft. Lauderdale Beach attracts sun worshippers from across the globe. Despite the fact that Ft. Lauderdale is seen by many as a tropical paradise, people die here too — and when they do, consequences ensue for the loved ones they leave behind. That is precisely why estate planning is so important.
Many people ignore estate planning until it is too late, and it’s not hard to understand why. Most people don’t like thinking about a future in which they may be terminally ill, or the fact that someday their loved ones will have to carry on without them. Nevertheless, it is nearly impossible to create a sound estate plan without a lot of thought, knowledge and foresight. At Lorenzo Law, providing these benefits is simply what we do.
What can an estate planning lawyer do for me?
An experienced Florida estate planning lawyer can:
- Help you navigate the state-specific nuances of Florida’s trusts and estates law;
- Help you fit the pieces of your estate planning puzzle into a coherent whole;
- Get every detail right, so that you do not suffer from any of the myriad of possible estate planning pitfalls; and
- Avoiding litigation in advance by closing every possible loophole.
The greatest advantage you will gain from effective estate planning is something you will never see — all of the disputes that did not erupt, and all of the problems that did not arise, both before and after you die.
The Components of an Effective Estate Plan
An effective Florida estate plan is typically composed of the following components:
- A will;
- A durable power of attorney;
- A living trust;
- Beneficiary designations for life insurance policies, etc.; and
- Healthcare directives.
The foregoing components are building blocks, and many different estate plans can be fashioned out of them. Some people may leave nothing at all in their probate estate, for example, preferring to transfer their assets through trusts and beneficiary designations. In any case, it is almost universally true that no two well-conceived estate plans look exactly alike — creating an estate plan tailor-made for an individual is a work of art requiring more than a little creativity.
Your will tells the court how to dispose of their probate estate, which for many people does not even begin to constitute all of their property. Your will must be drafted with great care to avoid unintended consequences, and it must strictly comply with the formal requirements for wills under Florida law.
Normally, you do not have complete freedom to leave your property to whoever you see fit in whatever amounts you please. If you leave a spouse behind, for example, he or she is entitled to a statutory elective share of at least 30 percent of the value of your estate, regardless of what your will says. Other statutory rights exist as well, and they must be taken into account when drafting your will.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney (POA) is simply a document that allows someone you appoint to perform certain legal acts for you, such as withdrawing money from your bank account, signing a contract that binds you, or consenting to a particular form of medical treatment. Normally, your agent’s power expires if you lose mental competence due to, say, dementia.
This defeats the purpose of a POA, if the purpose for executing it is to allow your agent to make medical decisions for you when you cannot make them on your own. For this reason, a POA can be made durable, which means the agent’s power continues even after you lose mental competence. A durable POA can be a critical estate planning document, because in many cases it is the only practical alternative to having a guardian appointed for you by a court.
The Living Trust
You can set up and fund a living trust while you are still alive (hence the designation “living”). Once you die, however, the trust becomes irrevocable. The terms of the trust can be structured to distribute assets to your beneficiaries gradually (once a month payments over a period of years, for example). One of the most positive aspects of a trust is that payments can continue smoothly, both before and after you die, with no interruption from probate proceedings.
Various types of accounts and financial instruments such as life insurance policies, IRAs, 401(k) plans, etc. require beneficiary designations. They can function as a very important part of your estate plan, not only for avoiding probate but also for maximizing tax efficiency. You will need to think carefully about the identities of your beneficiaries and how the assets distributed through these devices fit into your overall estate plan.
Several different types of medical directives can become very, very important in terminal illness scenarios, including:
- A healthcare proxy, which is essentially a type of durable power of attorney for medical decisions (it doesn’t become effective until you lose mental competency, however);
- A living will, in which you inform your doctors in advance which measures you do and do not want them to take to keep you alive if you become terminally ill and mentally incompetent; and
- Medical instructions in which you express your treatment preferences before you become incompetent (unlike a living will, these directives do not have to involve life or death decisions).
Related Practice Areas
In addition to estate planning, Lorenzo Law handles the following types of cases, among others:
- Probate and estate administration
- Legal guardianship
- Probate and trust litigation
- Nursing home abuse
We’re Waiting to Hear From You
As long as you are a legal adult, it is never too early to start formulating your estate plan. If you are ready, we are too. Call us at (305) 999-5411, contact us online or visit our office on 7th Street. We serve clients throughout the Ft. Lauderdale area including Flagler Village, Imperial Point and Las Olas Isles, as well as throughout the state of Florida.