3 reasons a will isn’t enough
By: Heather Ward, Esq.
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3 reasons a will isn’t enough
Clients often come into our office saying, “I just want you to draw up a simple Will.” We won’t argue that having a Will is important. However, 99% of the time, we recommend a more thorough estate plan for many reasons. Here are three reasons why you may want your estate plan to include more than a Will:
1. A Will doesn’t avoid probate.
This is a common misconception that we hear often. A Will is simply a set of instructions that are then given to the court during probate proceedings. Your Will names a Personal Representative who then administers your estate after being appointed by that probate court. The Will provides those instructions, but everything still must be overseen by the court. Most of our clients wish to avoid probate because it is a long, expensive, and public process.
2. A Will doesn’t protect you when you’re still alive.
It is just as important to us, if not more important, that we take care of you, not just your beneficiaries. A Will does not kick in until you have passed and probate proceedings have been instituted. However, we want all of your wishes honored. Here are some additional estate planning devices that help us do so:
- Designation of Health Care Surrogate: This directive allows you to name who you want to make your health care decisions if you are unable to do. It used to be fairly easy for spouses to make these decisions, but hospitals are becoming increasingly wary of this without written authorization. We even give you some discussion points to discuss with your Surrogate(s) to be sure they know what you would want to happen in various circumstances.
- Durable Power of Attorney: This directive allows you to name who you want to make your financial and business decisions if you are unable. It is especially important to have a strong power of attorney in Florida to help you avoid a guardianship.
- Living Will: This document allows you to state now which life-prolonging methods or procedures you would like to be used if you are in a terminal or end-stage condition or are in a vegetative state. This can be a very difficult decision for your loved ones to make if it’s not something you’ve ever spoken to them about. With a Living Will, they have executed instructions so that they do not have to burden themselves with making that decision, especially if your other loved ones have conflicting opinions.
- Revocable Living Trust: While most people think they know what a trust is best used for (handling “excessive” wealth that is being left to beneficiaries), there are several other reasons to have a trust that have nothing to do with money or wealth. A big one of these is that you can provide instructions about how you would like to be taken care of during your lifetime, especially if you are to become incapacitated. Your trust agreement can provide instructions to your Trustee, such as your desire to remain in your home for as long as possible, even if the cost of in-home care is more expensive than being in a facility. It also allows your Trustee to use your assets to take care of you instead of waiting for a court order to do so like in a guardianship.
3. A Will doesn’t help you avoid estate taxes.
Estate taxes can significantly reduce any inheritance left to your beneficiaries. While Floridians currently don’t have to worry about state estate taxes, there are always federal estate taxes to be considered. The majority of our clients think there’s no need to plan for estate taxes because the 2023 federal limit is set at $12.92 million per individual (which was increased due to inflation from $12.06 million). However, this number is set to go down in 2025 if the government takes no action, or if they purposefully lower the amount.
Estate planning is often not as straightforward as “just drafting a Will,” but an experienced attorney can help you make the best decisions to ensure that you are protecting yourself while you’re alive and leaving the legacy for your loved ones. Call us today to schedule your free estate planning consult.