What is a Will and Why Do I Need One in Florida?

Estate planning attorneys in Florida encounter many misconceptions when it comes to wills. To help set the record straight, we offer some examples of why having a valid will can be helpful and why it is a good idea for everyone to establish one.

Recognizing the Power of a Will

At its most basic, a will is a document that provides instructions for distributing your assets after you pass away. It can either be very straightforward or be complex to accomplish many different functions. You can do one or more of the following in your will:

  • Name a personal representative who will ensure that obligations are fulfilled and assets are distributed appropriately
  • Specify instructions about gifts or debts
  • Designate the individuals who should receive particular assets as beneficiaries
  • Provide gifts to charitable organizations or special causes
  • Name guardians for minor children
  • Establish a trust to hold assets for minor children
  • Create a pet trust to provide care for animals
  • Pour assets into a trust to avoid probate

It is important to understand that on its own, a will cannot prevent your estate from going through the probate process. However, if you create a revocable living trust to hold assets and some of your property does not make it into that trust, a “pour over” clause in a will can ensure that those assets move into the trust. The estate would essentially show no assets and, therefore, would not need to be probated.

What Happens if You Don’t Have a Will in Place?

If you do not have a valid will at the time of your death, the intestate succession laws of Florida determine who will receive many of your assets. These laws are explicit about which relatives will inherit certain shares of the property.

Additionally, in the absence of a will, the court will determine who should handle your estate and who assumes the role of guardian for your children. If you allow the legal system to administer these critical decisions, the result may be at odds with your preferences.

The Importance of Establishing a Will

There are a few situations where it is especially crucial to establish a valid will. First, if you want to leave property to a partner who is not your legal spouse, you should memorialize that designation in a will. Furthermore, if you wish to distribute assets to anyone who is not a close family member, you need to specify your wishes in a valid will; otherwise, the intestacy laws are likely to pass those assets to someone else.

If you have minor children or plan to have children, guardianship and trust provisions in a will can ensure their protection in the future. Also, if you have created a living trust, your estate could still end up in probate unless you have a will with pour-over provisions. It is essential to name the personal representative in your will, who will oversee the handling of your property once you pass, or the court may give that role to someone unsuitable.

In conclusion, the main reason every adult should create a will is that it provides peace of mind for both you and your loved ones. We live in an uncertain world, but knowing that you have provided a measure of security for the future allows you to face whatever comes with certainty. If you already have a will, it is wise to review the provisions with an attorney every few years to make sure you have accounted for changes in the law or your situation.

Talk to a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer to Create the Right Will for Your Situation

We understand how to help clients assess their needs and create wills and other estate planning tools tailored to specific goals. Together, we can review your options and put a plan in place to prepare you and your loved ones for the days ahead. Contact us today for a confidential consultation to learn how we can help.