Port St. Lucie Estate Planning Lawyer for Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney & More

Without a will or updated estate plan, estate disputes can easily arise, potentially depriving loved ones of an intended inheritance. However, comprehensive estate planning and a sound asset protection strategy can help safeguard your hard-earned assets and protect your family and future generations from contentious estate litigation. An experienced Port St. Lucie estate planning lawyer can help.

At The Karp Law Firm, we assist clients with the preparation of pragmatic and cost-effective estate plans focused on:

  • Safeguarding assets,
  • Tax minimization and gifting strategies,
  • Distributing assets in accordance with a client’s wishes, and
  • Minimizing the chance of an estate dispute.

As Port St. Lucie estate planning lawyers serving both Port St. Lucie and the surrounding communities, our dedicated will and trust lawyers can explain your estate planning options and construct a plan tailored to your objectives.  Call today to learn about our affordable estate planning options.

What Happens if I Die in Florida Without a Will or Estate Plan?

If an individual passes without a will or estate plan, Florida intestacy law will dictate to whom assets (those not beneficiary-designed or jointly owned) must be distributed, even if such distribution directly conflicts with a decedent’s wishes.

It’s important to understand that under Florida intestate law, all of those who are related to a decedent by the same degree are entitled to an equal value of assets.  As an example, if a mother dies without a spouse or will/estate plan, all children will be entitled to an equal share of assets based upon the fair market value of the items.

Importantly, “fair market value” does not take into account the sentimental value that loved ones may place on belongings.  Photographs, family heirlooms, and similar assets may have great sentimental value, but little (or even no) market value.

In these cases, bitter disputes can arise.  One child may believe that they are entitled to a piece of jewelry based upon a parent’s promise, while a sibling may also believe that they are entitled to the same piece of jewelry.  These disputes can be easily avoided by a simple will which names who should inherit specific assets.

What Types of Probate Exist Under Florida Law?

Probate is a process overseen by the Florida Probate Court. It ensures that the personal representative takes all steps required to administer the estate. Probate alerts known creditors and potential creditors and gives them the opportunity to file claims prior to beneficiaries receiving their share.

The four different types of probate under Florida law are formal probate administration, summary probate administration, and disposition without administration and ancillary administration.

Formal probate administration

Formal probate administration entails naming a personal representative (also known as an executor) whose primary duties are to identify assets and liabilities, pay outstanding expenses, and distribute the remaining assets to legal beneficiaries. Formal probate administration can be expensive. Everything the personal representative does must comply with Florida law. The personal representative must comply with court deadlines and document in detail to the court that everything has been done according to Florida law. For this reason, it is often desirable to explore estate planning tools that can bypass formal probate administration in seeking to ensure that your heirs receive the maximum amount possible.

Summary probate administration.

If an individual’s probatable assets are less than $75,000 and there are no creditors of the decedent, or if the decedent has been deceased for longer than two years regardless of the value of the estate, the estate may qualify for summary probate administration, a more economical and expeditious probate process.

Disposition Without Administration.

If a decedent did not own real estate and his or her personal assets are valued at less than the sum of the amount of preferred funeral expenses and reasonable medical expenses incurred in the last 60 days of the last illness, the probate hearing may be skipped entirely. 

Ancillary Administration

Ancillary probate administration is the process that must take place in Florida if the decent owned real property in Florida. This applies even to a time share deeded to the owner.

As experienced Port St. Lucie estate planning attorneys, we can listen to your estate objectives, explain your legal options for avoiding or minimizing probate expenses, and help construct an estate plan tailored to your needs.

What Are the Essential Components of a Florida Estate Plan?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to estate planning; thus, the strategy for each client varies based on their individual needs and goals. An estate plan may be comprised of some (or all) of the following:

  • Last Will and Testament. A will sets forth the individuals and/or charities who will receive assets, owned in the name of the testator at the time of death. These assets do not include assets in a trust or assets subject to certain other conditions, such as jointly owned assets, payable on death bank accounts, or transfer on death brokerage accounts.
  • Living Trusts. A living trust is also known as a revocable trust.  It is a document created by an individual (known as a grantor or settlor) to manage his or her assets during life and distribute the remaining assets to designated beneficiaries after death. In comparison to distributing assets through a will, this may help bypass the expense of probate.

Trusts can also be helpful for other purposes.  For example, if you have young children, a trust can be used to hold and distribute assets if you should die before they become adults.

  • Healthcare Power of Attorney (also known as a Health Care Surrogate). When an individual suffers a disability and loses the capacity to make health and welfare decisions, loved ones may be forced to seek costly and unnecessary court appointments (known as guardianships and conservatorships).  Guardianship and conservatorship allow a representative to be appointed to oversee virtually all aspects of the life of another person; however, a healthcare power of attorney can typically help bypass these processes.

With a healthcare power of attorney, a person can select a specific person to make decisions about their care if they suffer a debilitating injury or condition that renders them unable to communicate.  For example, if a person is involved in a serious automobile accident and slips into a coma and does not have, a healthcare power of attorney, loved ones may need to petition the court for guardianship and/or conservatorship. If a court guardianship or conservatorship is required, there will be costly and public court oversight that will be required. Such expense and court oversight are usually not required with healthcare or other powers of attorney.

Florida has a statute known as the health care proxy that sets forth who can make a person’s medical decisions if the person has not executed a healthcare power of attorney. The individuals so authorized may not be the individuals the incapacitated person would have preferred to manage his health decisions.

  • Living Will. A Living Will is an advance directive that allows a person to make end-of-life decisions ahead of time. For example, if an individual has a terminal illness, he or she can specify whether life-extending measures should be taken or if only palliative care should be administered if they are unable to communicate these decisions at such time. By documenting such wishes, loved ones will not be tasked with having to make those difficult decisions.
  • Durable Property Power of Attorney.  A property power of attorney is a document transferring the legal right to manage and access a property to an agent.

How Can I Ensure that My Special Needs Child is Provided For?

Children with special needs can require life-long care, which can come at a significant cost. For people caring for a disabled or special needs child, it is vital to engage in strategic estate planning that allows the child to qualify for full state and federal government benefits while still retaining access to familial financial resources. For many of our clients, this can be accomplished through a special needs trust.

Call Today to Schedule a Consultation with an Experienced Port St. Lucie Estate Planning Lawyer.

For decades, our experienced Port St. Lucie will, trust, and estate attorneys have been helping clients navigate the estate planning process, constructing strategic and pragmatic plans that seek to protect assets and loved ones while minimizing taxes.

If you have not started or need to update your estate plan to reflect changed circumstances in your life, we invite you to call The Karp Law Firm.  If retained, our Port St. Lucie estate planning attorneys can review your estate assets, discuss your wishes, explain the options that may be best for furthering your objectives, and prepare your personalized estate plan.