Probate, Estate, Trust and Elder Law

Do I need an attorney to draft a living will?
Not necessarily. A person does not need to have an attorney to complete a living will or health care surrogate designation. The current living will and corresponding health care surrogate designation form accepted in Florida are fairly easy to complete. Because they are legal documents, these advance directives need to be properly executed and witnessed and an attorney may be necessary if the person does not fully understand the content. If you have questions during the process of completing and executing these advance directives, seeking the advice of a probate attorney will ensure your wishes are clearly documented. Living wills and health care surrogate designations are frequently included during estate planning with a probate attorney.
Does a living will ever expire? How often do I need to update the document?
No, a living will and health care surrogate designation do not expire. They can, however, be changed or revoked. There may be several reasons to update the documents. For example, if you change your mind about who should be authorized to make decisions for you or what those decisions should be, then you need to change your living will or health care surrogate designation. Also, if the law changes or you move to another state, you might want to review what changes, if any, are necessary.
What is a living trust and how would I know if a living trust is right for my estate?
Many times people with larger estates can benefit from having a living trust (also known as an intervivos or revocable trust). Setting up a living trust means you (the grantor) must establish the trust and then choose assets to “fund” the trust, allowing you access to funds during your lifetime and specifying how you’d like the assets to be distributed, by your trustee, to your beneficiaries after your death. Assets held in trust are considered private and are generally not subject to oversight by the probate court although Florida law does give the probate court jurisdiction over trusts. Assets that may be owned by a living trust are varied and can include savings accounts, stocks, bonds, real estate, life insurance, and personal property. A Trustee can carry out your wishes when you're not able to. Depending on your estate and plans for your heirs after your death, you can request that assets held in trust be distributed over time, allowing remaining funds to grow in value over the years and providing more protection for your heirs and beneficiaries. Trusts may not be appropriate for every estate plan based on the work they require over your lifetime and fees that may be regularly incurred by the trust. Consult with a probate attorney for advice about whether setting up a living trust is appropriate for you.
Is a living trust the only way to plan for assets to avoid probate?
First of all, avoiding probate isn’t always the right decision for every estate. Sometimes, having the probate court oversee your final wishes can be beneficial. If the avoidance of probate is appropriate, estate planning techniques like joint tenancy, life insurance policies, in-trust-for bank accounts (also known as Totten Trusts), individual retirement plans, pensions or Keogh accounts might be helpful. Basically, these financial planning methods allow you to designate payable-on-death beneficiaries to the accounts or property, typically allowing beneficiaries to receive control of the funds or property more quickly, more privately, and less expensively than if they’d been distributed through a will and probate court. These and other methods can be researched by a probate attorney for their appropriateness to your plans and assets.