How You Can Avoid Florida Probate and Why You Should
Unless you are a wills and estates attorney, you may not be intimately familiar with the concept of probate, but understanding what probate is and how to avoid it can make all of the difference when it comes to effectively distributing your assets after death.
What is Florida Probate?
So, what is probate? Probate is the process by which a person’s assets are distributed after their death. This process may involve settling debts, paying estate taxes, and distributing assets. Depending on the specific circumstances, probate can look different. For instance, probate will unfold differently depending on whether you have a valid will or not. If you have a valid will, the probate process will involve establishing that your will is, in fact, legally valid, paying any necessary taxes, and distributing assets in accordance with the will’s instructions. If there is no valid will, Florida’s intestate succession laws will apply to determine how the assets are distributed.
What is the Problem With Probate?
Probate can be a long and costly process, and the outcome is not always what you would expect. Even if there is a will with clear instructions by the decedent, its validity can be challenged by loved ones who do not agree with the decedent’s decisions. In this way, going through probate essentially leaves the door open to challenges, and risks that the decedent’s last wishes will not be honored in the manner the decedent intended. Additionally, probate can be a very long and frustrating process for those who are waiting to gain access to the decedent’s assets. For instance, if loved ones relied on the decedent financially, they may not have access to any of the decedent’s assets until probate is resolved, which can take years. This can create a financial crisis for many families.
How Can I Avoid Probate?
The good news is that probate is actually very easy to avoid if you plan for it. The problem is, few people do. One simple way to ensure that your spouse is not left destitute during probate is to add them to bank accounts, personal property titles, and real estate deeds as a joint tenant with a right to survivorship. What this means is that the moment one of the joint-owners dies, ownership transfers entirely to the surviving owner. This allows the assets to effectively avoid probate, as they are no longer an asset belonging to the decedent. It is important to note that your spouse will become a co-owner with equal rights and access to the property and accounts as soon as they are added, however, not upon your death. Similarly, an alternative option is to designate a “pay on death” beneficiary for your bank accounts and non-retirement investment accounts. Your bank teller can do this by adding a “POD” designation on your account.
Another popular way to avoid probate is by creating a revocable living trust. You create this trust while you are alive and well, and transfer ownership of the assets you want to pass on to the trust. This way, the assets no longer legally belong to you. Any assets not transferred to the trust’s ownership will still have to go through probate, unless they have a designated beneficiary or joint-owner with survivorship rights.
Talk to a Florida Estate Planning Attorney
If you want to ensure that your wishes are respected and your loved ones are protected after you are gone, The SG Firm can create an estate plan that meets and addresses all of your needs and concerns. Contact The SG Firm today to schedule a free consultation. You will get more than an estate plan, you will get peace of mind.