How to Choose an Estate Planning Attorney

How to Choose an Estate Planning Attorney

Estate planning is a vital part of protecting your assets and wishes; however, choosing the right attorney in the first place is essential to making it a smooth, comfortable process. While our experienced attorneys are ready to help you with your estate plans, we hope to provide some information below to help you learn how to choose an estate planning lawyer in Florida.

What Does an Estate Attorney Do?

An estate attorney helps you discuss your goals for your assets and wishes, such as plans for minor children, minimizing estate taxes, powers of attorney, life insurance policies, and drafting estate planning documents. Estate planners have specific estate planning experience and knowledge of estate law.

Do I Need a Specialized Attorney for the Estate Planning Process?

While some people may be able to manage minor legal matters or legal documents, estate plans for even the simplest estates is worth the ease and expense that comes with a knowledgeable attorney. 

Additionally, it is always estate planning better to use an attorney for an estate plan (even if ‘minor legal matter’) to ensure you use the correct form and execute it correctly. Incorrect forms may be deemed invalid by the courts. 

Another reason to use an estate plan is to prevent the Florida intestate laws from determining who your beneficiaries are. If you don’t have documents, the law decides how your assets will pass to your children and/or dependents. 

Finally, you need an estate plan if you have a trust, own real estate, want to reduce taxes, want to avoid the probate process and want someone knowledgeable about your state’s specific laws to ensure your wishes are protected.

4 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Potential Estate Planning Lawyer

If you have decided hiring a legal professional is a good choice for your situation, you may wonder how to choose the person to help with these estate planning services. Below are 5 tips to help you narrow down some good choices for your situation.

  1. What are your specific needs? Identifying your goals for your assets makes it easier to ask the questions necessary to find someone with expertise in those areas. You may need help in specific areas such as updating an existing will or trust, establishing beneficiaries or guardianship, or reducing tax liability. Or, you may need help with the entire process from scratch.
  2. What is their reputation? As with other businesses, excellent service, helpful attorneys, and law firms tend to develop a reputation. Asking friends or family who they trust can give you peace of mind and a reference point for someone who will be a good fit to help with what is important to you.
  3. What/where is their expertise? Access to a wide range of options through an internet search is one way to search for legal counsel; however, with estate planning, it is important to make sure you choose an attorney who is familiar with and licensed in the state where you are located. Additionally, the attorney’s proximity is often helpful in the future if you need to adjust your plan and is easier for your loved ones after your passing.
  4. Do I feel comfortable with them? Even after researching and hearing the recommendations of friends and family, it is important to interview your potential attorneys. While this need not be a lengthy process, you can often tell a lot about your rapport with someone through a conversation to help ensure you are choosing the right person.

At the Law Office of Amy B. Van Fossen, we have numerous estate lawyers with excellent reputations and years of experience with estate planning both for specific needs and comprehensive plans. Please contact us today for legal advice or a preliminary estate planning meeting in Florida.

2024 Medicaid and VA Updates

2024 Medicaid and VA Updates

Each year, millions of people rely upon Medicaid services and Veterans Affairs (VA) programs and benefits for a range of health care matters, such as chronic disease management, dental services, essential health benefits, behavioral health treatment, and more. As a resident of Florida who may need these programs, the information below includes important information, links to eligibility, and ways to learn about 2024 Medicaid and VA updates.

What is Medicaid?

Medicaid is a partnership between the state and federal government to provide health coverage for those who meet the following qualifications:

  • A resident of the state of Florida
  • U.S. national, citizen, permanent resident, or legal alien
  • In need of healthcare or insurance assistance
  • Qualifies as a low-income individual (link here to check your eligibility status)
  • Also, pregnant women, those responsible for a child 18 years of age or younger, blind, disabled, or has a household family member with a disability

In addition, Florida also has Statewide Medicaid Managed Care Long-Term Care (SMMC LTC). This program helps Medicaid-eligible seniors receive benefit packages to stay in their homes, community, or assisted living instead of nursing home care. Those who are eligible for these long-term care services can choose a plan and health care providers and have the support of a Long-Term Care Case Manager to help the senior remain in the least restrictive environment for their needed level of care.

Lastly, keep in mind that while they sound similar, Medicare & Medicaid services are different programs under the Department of Health and Human Services. While Medicaid requires eligibility, as discussed above, Medicare is funded by Social Security tax contributions, and most seniors are eligible to enroll at age 65.

What are Veterans Affairs (VA) Pension Benefits?

VA pension benefits are yet another way many seniors have access to health care, in-home nursing care, assisted living rent, medical insurance premiums, prescription co-pays, etc. As with Medicaid, this benefit also has eligibility requirements, renewal processes, and continuous coverage requirements to avoid gaps in coverage. Those who are eligible for VA pension benefits must meet the following:

  • Actively served in the military, naval, or air service and some qualifying Reserve and National Guard members
  • Have a discharge or release under conditions other than dishonorable
  • Serve during an eligible wartime period 
  • Be a widowed spouse of the above

Eligible Individuals can access health care providers at a number of VA facilities in Florida. You may begin your exploration of eligibility for VA benefits at this link. Additionally, our law office offers free VA Benefits Seminars to ease the burdens on enrollees. We help eligible veterans or their widowed spouses navigate the sometimes challenging eligibility requirements. 

To sign up for VA Benefits Seminars with our knowledgeable attorneys, check our schedule here.

2024 Updates for Medicaid & VA

As with most government programs, some fee schedules and direct cost changes occur each year, and there has been a Medicaid expansion for veterans.

Here are a few Medicaid changes to note:

  • The annual Part B deductible for 2024 is increasing to $240.
  • The limit on Part D Prescription deductibles is increasing to no more than $545 for 2024.
  • Copays for a 30-day supply of any insulin that a Medicare drug plan covers will remain at $35.
  • Please note that annual renewals are now required, a change from the Covid-policy continuous enrollment.
  • Medicare enrollees who take their insulin through a pump as part of the Part B durable medical equipment benefit will continue not to have to pay a deductible, and they will also benefit from the $35 copay cap.
  • Continuing in 2024, vaccines recommended for adults by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will be available to Medicare recipients free of charge.
  • It also provides coverage without patient cost sharing of recommended vaccines for people with Medicare Part D.
  • The Part A deductible is $1,632 for 2024 before Original Medicare starts to pay after an inpatient hospital benefit period. The Part B annual deductible is $240.
  • And, as a preview to 2025, all Medicare Part D individuals with Medicare Part D will have a $2,000 cap for out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.

 To explore all of the updates further, click here.

Regarding VA benefits, there have been changes to the copay rates, changes to disability compensation rates, as well as a new life insurance program. To explore these issues specific to your situation, ask policy questions, or ask documentation requirement questions, please sign up for one of our VA Benefits Seminars.

What Happens if You Pass Away Without a Will?

What Happens if You Pass Away Without a Will?

In the unfortunate event that you pass away without a will, the distribution of your property may become subject to the laws of intestacy. This means that a local probate court may have to step in and decide how to distribute your assets. Without written documentation reflecting your wishes, the probate process can only follow state intestacy laws. Let’s look at how the laws of intestacy impact your loved ones.

What Happens Without a Will

If You’re Married

If you’re married and die without a will, your spouse is entitled to a share of your estate. This can be seen as advantageous for many couples as it ensures that the surviving spouse is provided for in the event of one partner’s death. If you’re married, but have children with someone other than your current spouse, then your estate will be split between your current spouse and your children.

If You’re Single

If you’re single and without kids, it’s essential to have a will to ensure your estate is distributed according to your wishes. The court’s distribution may align differently from what you want. For example, if you have a significant other not named as a beneficiary, the courts likely will not acknowledge them. Additionally, any assets you own, such as a car or a condo, may be used to pay off any outstanding debt you have.

If You Have Children

Having a will is an important step for parents to take to ensure their children are provided for after they pass away. Without a will, the distribution of assets can become complicated, especially if blended families, grandchildren, adopted children, or foster children are involved. Each state has its own intestacy laws determining how assets are distributed if someone dies without a will. Generally, when parents die without a will and have children, the children will receive an intestate share of the assets. However, the percentage of this share can vary depending on the state.

For parents with blended families or additional family members like grandchildren, adopted children, or foster children, determining the order of succession becomes even more complex. Each state has different rules about who inherits from an estate when additional family members are involved. Parents in these situations need to consult with an attorney specializing in estate planning to ensure their wishes are carried out and their children are protected.

How Dying Without a Will Affects Your Loved Ones

One of the most critical implications of dying without a will is the burden it places on your loved ones financially. Without clear instructions on distributing your assets, the court must decide who gets what. This often requires hiring lawyers and other legal professionals, which can be quite expensive. This can deplete the estate’s value and takes precious time away from those left behind, trying to navigate their loss and move forward with their lives.

On the emotional side, dying without a will or estate planning documents can create tension and disagreements among family members. When important decisions regarding guardianship for minor children or caretakers for pets are left up to the court system or siblings’ discussions, it can cause unnecessary stress during a time of grieving. Check out our Estate Planning Checklist and avoid unnecessary stress.

What Happens to Your Things When You Die Without a Will?

When you die without a will, the distribution of your personal property becomes significantly more complicated. As we have explained, the probate court will ultimately decide who receives your assets based on the intestate succession laws of your state. Instead of controlling who gets what, these laws outline a predetermined order of succession. Your surviving spouse will be prioritized along with any children that you do not share with your surviving spouse, followed by your children. If you have no children, your parents, siblings, and extended family members may be next in line to inherit. 

Contact an estate planning attorney at The Law Offices of Amy B. VanFossen to ensure your inheritance wishes are fulfilled. Our expert team of probate lawyers will walk you through the steps to prepare and file your will.

FAQs About Wills

What Is Probate?

Probate is the legal process that occurs after someone dies to oversee the distribution of their assets. It is important to note that whether or not you have a will, your estate may still go through probate court. If you do have a will, the process typically begins with the authentication of your will and the formal appointment of your personal representative or executor. This individual is responsible for carrying out your wishes as outlined in the will, such as gathering your assets, paying any valid creditors, and distributing your property and assets to beneficiaries.

What Does Intestate Mean?

Dying intestate refers to an individual passing away without leaving behind a will. A will is a legal document that outlines the deceased person’s wishes concerning the distribution of their property and assets after death. When someone dies intestate, they have not specified how their estate should be divided among their beneficiaries. Read more about Florida intestate laws here.

How Do You Write a Will?

Writing a will can be done differently depending on the complexity of your estate and your specific wishes. Hiring a lawyer is a wise option if you have a complicated financial situation or specific wishes that must be addressed. The lawyer will guide you through the process by asking relevant questions and using their expertise to draft a last will and testament form for you to sign, ensuring that all legal requirements are met and your desires are accurately represented in your will.

 Learn more here:


Estate Planning Checklist for Florida Residents

Estate Planning Checklist for Florida Residents

Estate planning is one of the most important steps you can take to protect your wishes. Estate plan documents advocate for your wishes should you become unable to manage your own affairs. Additionally, these documents ensure your wishes are followed for your beneficiary designations after your passing. If you need assistance from an estate planning attorney in Florida, below are some important items to consider.

Important Estate Planning Checklist

    1. Establish a Last Will & Testament: This document shows how you want the executor or personal representative of your estate to distribute your assets after your passing, who will inherit from you, and who will care for minor children. Without a Last Will and Testament, the state law will determine the distribution of your assets through the probate process which may incur unnecessary time and expense.
    2. Set Up a Trust: A revocable living trust differs from a Last Will and Testament by being available for use during your lifetime. Like a Last Will and Testament, a revocable trust states how you want your assets distributed after death but can be amended or revoked during your lifetime and gives someone else the right to manage your affairs if needed while you are alive. An irrevocable trust does the same but cannot be amended.
    3. Attend to Your Health Care Documents: Living wills, health care surrogates, and advance health care directives are all legal documents stating your wishes for medical decisions, life-prolonging medical procedures, long-term care, medical treatments, and who has the power to make medical decisions. Learn more about estate planning documents and trust funding at our monthly seminars.
    4. Declare a Preneed Guardian: No one plans to become incapacitated; however, tragedies and accidents happen sometimes. By naming a preneed guardian, you establish who will manage your affairs if you become mentally or physically disabled and in need of guardianship, rather than the court choosing someone for you.
    5. Establish Durable Power of Attorney: This legal document specifically gives the person you choose (i.e. your agent) legal and financial power of attorney to act on your behalf regarding those affairs, including if you should later become incapacitated.
    6. Update Important Forms: As you get older and/or life circumstances change, remember to update forms to reflect your current situation, relationships, and family structure. Make sure you have updated HIPAA authorizations for access to your medical information, contingent beneficiaries, and beneficiary forms for financial accounts, investment accounts, employers, and retirement accounts, create succession plans for any businesses, verify accurate titling of all physical assets and real estate, and generally have ongoing/updated conversations with the important people in your life.
    7. Obtain Life Insurance: Life insurance policies can be a good option to ensure your family peace of mind that they can continue living in the way you desire if your income ceases due to your passing. Long-term care insurance can also help protect your assets if you need long-term medical care.
    8. Make Funeral Plans & Final Arrangements: Planning and paying for a funeral plan, burial plot, etc. ahead of your passing is not only typically less expensive, it is a way to relieve some of the burden from your family after your passing because they will know exactly what you wanted.

Estate Planning is Important

Estate planning can be intimidating; however, it is essential legal advice to protect you, your assets, and your loved ones. To discuss your complete estate plan needs and estate planning documents with an experienced estate attorney, contact us today.

Prepare for Your Estate Planning Consultation

Prepare for Your Estate Planning Consultation

Estate planning is a specialized field requiring the knowledge and skill of a professional. As such, one of the most important steps you can take in the estate planning process is choosing the right legal advice from a proper estate planning attorney. When choosing an attorney, it is imperative that you do your research. Credentials, testimonials/reviews, and personal recommendations are all important. Amy B. Van Fossen, planning lawyer has excellent ratings in all of the above categories, and we would be happy to assist you with your estate planning goals.

Prepare for Your Estate Planning Consultation:

Itemize Your Assets

You must know your financial situation in order to protect it from the probate process. Take an inventory of your assets and compile a list. Make sure to include identifying information for the assets, such as bank account numbers, financial statements, policy numbers, real estate descriptions, legal documents, etc. Items you should think about include:

  • Your home and its valuable contents (e.g., antiques, electronic equipment, collections of art, jewelry, etc.)
  • Your vehicles and boats
  • Financial Assets – IRA, 401K, bank and brokerage accounts, annuities, insurance policies, stocks, and bonds. Sometimes, once people start digging, they come across an account or asset they had forgotten about.

Although not an asset, it is important to itemize your debts as well. Items you should think about include:

  • Mortgages
  • Lines of credit
  • Credit card debt
  • Auto and other loans

In addition to this, please compile a list of questions you may have for your estate planning attorney.

Itemize a List of Organizations to Which You Belong

Think about the groups in which you belong or are interested in belonging. Some examples include VA, charitable organizations, religious groups, professional associations, college alumni groups, and political groups. These groups may offer services that you are unaware of or may be organizations you want to include in your estate plan as a beneficiary.

Think About Who You Want To Be Your Beneficiaries and Executor

Who do you want to inherit your estate when you pass away? Is it an individual or a charity? If a person, who would be the backup beneficiary if the primary person predeceased you? Do you have accounts that already have designated beneficiaries or POD/TOD?

You will also want to think about who your Successor Trustee/Executor will be. Will you include a backup if the first person listed predeceases you? Additionally, who would be the appropriate person to designate as your healthcare surrogate and/or durable power of attorney agent? Who do you want to make long-term care decisions, medical decisions, and financial decisions for you if you become incapacitated? You will want to consider reliability, trustworthiness, and dependability when deciding on the person to nominate for these positions.

Our team can help prepare the necessary estate planning documents to meet all of your needs, including but not limited to the desire to avoid probate, an incapacitation plan, a contingent trust plan for young children, and a special needs plan for yourself and loved ones.

It is important to start thinking about a solid estate plan now. The earlier you start thinking about these topics, the less overwhelming it will be when it is time to make decisions. When the time comes to schedule your estate planning session consultation, contact The Law Offices of Amy B Van Fossen, P.A. in Brevard County, FL. We are here to help guide you through the process, step by step. It is not your job to think about all the “what-ifs” – let us do that for you. We pride ourselves on being well-trained, detail-oriented, and comforting during the estate planning process. Our goal is to make sure you and your family are cared for and satisfied.


This article was originally published in August 2021 but has been updated for accuracy and freshness.