Estate Planning Attorneys for Florida Asset Protection
Mateer & Harbert assists clients with a broad range of comprehensive estate planning choices including wills, living trusts, advanced directives, and power of attorney designations. By developing and implementing complete estate plans, our clients can rest assured their assets will be distributed in an orderly fashion and according to their wishes after their death. We can help to minimize income, estate, and gift tax consequences. Comprehensive estate planning allows you to make choices now to reduce the burden of indecision for your family in the future.
Options for Estate Planning
The benefit of a last will and testament, or a living trust, is the protection of your loved ones. It allows a person to choose beneficiaries to inherit their financial and personal assets. If you have minor children, you can name a trusted guardian to act in your absence. There are tax advantages to pre-planning and documenting your wishes. To avoid estate taxes, our law firm prepares estimates of tax liability and recommends solutions such as gifting, credit shelter trusts, marital trusts, and charitable trusts. Estate planning can also minimize the confusion and disputes that commonly occur between family members.
While both a will and a living trust are useful planning tools, they have significant differences that can affect an estate’s outcome. A trust takes immediate effect when the document is executed and bypasses the probate process. The trustee can manage your financial and business affairs during temporary or permanent incapacity or after death. A will also allows you to choose who will benefit from your estate. However, the probate court must administer it to ensure its authenticity before any assets or debts can be distributed. A probate proceeding can be costly and time-consuming, depending on the estate’s complexity, family dynamics, and the directions left by the decedent in the will. The heirs can be responsible for maintaining the estate, such as property taxes, mortgage payments, or business debts until probate court has settled the estate.
Consequences of Failing to Plan for an Estate
When a decedent has not implemented an estate plan, the legal terminology is that they died intestate. Under those circumstances, all assets and debts are settled through a probate proceeding. The method of distribution is determined through intestate succession, which is a hierarchy of distribution. These serve as default rules, in determining the legal heirs and how to settle the estate. Without direction by the deceased through a will or a living trust, intestate estates are more subject to family disputes and legal contests.
An advanced directive is a legal document that specifies a person’s wishes for future health care in the event of incapacitation. Options for advanced directives include a living will, a health care surrogate, and a do not resuscitate order. A living will addresses options for life-sustaining medical treatments and a desire for comfort care with maximum pain relief. A health care surrogate designation appoints an agent for healthcare decision-making in the event of incapacitation due to a mental or physical disability. A do not resuscitate order is a physician’s order for patients that choose to refuse cardiopulmonary resuscitation. As part of comprehensive estate planning, Mateer & Harbert can help our clients think critically about their options and draft written advanced directives.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney gives an appointed person the authority to decide business and financial decisions in your absence. There are various types of powers of attorneys; however, the most common are the limited and the general power of attorney. A limited power of attorney gives someone the ability to make decisions for a limited purpose or time. For example, business owners may grant a power of attorney to make business decisions in their absence for a specific time. Or, a power of attorney can be granted for a specified purpose, such as real estate matters. A general power of attorney gives your attorney-in-fact broad capabilities to make financial decisions until it is revoked. A power of attorney terminates upon the death of the principal.
Mateer & Harbert can Protect what Matters to You
Our estate planning attorneys are experienced, compassionate professionals that will help you protect your family’s future. We serve clients throughout the State of Florida. Regardless of your estate’s complexity, we will ensure that your assets are well distributed. If you already have estate planning documents, we recommend having one of our attorneys review them for changes in estate tax laws. For any significant life changes such as a birth, a death of a beneficiary, a divorce, or asset changes, estate plans may require an update.
For more information regarding our estate planning practice, contact Mateer & Harbert at 407-425-9044.