Estate Planning Tips for Florida Residents

Estate Planning Tips for Florida Residents

Estate planning is an important part of protecting your assets and wishes, but sometimes, it’s hard to sift through the details and know where to start. You may also need help from an expert to confirm you are addressing all the various aspects of the estate planning process. At The Law Office of Amy B. Van Fossen, we have been in practice since 2004, specializing in many aspects of elder care law, including estate planning tips for Florida residents. Read more about our estate planning tips for Florida residents.

5 Tips for a Comprehensive Estate Plan

  1. Hire an Expert: Preparing an estate plan is not a DIY project. It is important to ensure certain processes and procedures are followed, so your documents are legal and valid. Hiring an attorney with expertise in estate planning success is an important first step.
  2. Express Your Wishes: Every person and every family is different. It is essential that you share your goals with your estate attorney, so your legal documents are drawn up to express your personal wishes. Some things you may decide upon are your personal representative (executor/executrix), beneficiaries, power of attorney, guardianship of minor children, and wishes for long-term care.
  3. Consider Trust Options: Wills, revocable trusts, and irrevocable trusts are just three of the most common choices for documenting the plan for your estate. Depending on your age and goals for your estate, your attorney can help you choose the best option for your situation.
  4. Maximize Asset Protection: One of the most important reasons for estate planning is to maximize the protection of your estate assets by avoiding the probate process and ensuring that you have accounted for federal government and/or state estate taxes. This includes physical assets such as real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, insurance policies, online accounts, and digital assets you may own.

Follow Up: Many attorneys recommend a yearly review of your trust to update changes that may need to be made due to the beneficiary designations, additional accumulated or lost assets, changes in real estate, retirement plans, and your goals based on your health and preferences.

FAQ: What Is a Personal Representative and What Do They Do?

  • What is a personal representative (also known as an executor or executrix)? A personal representative is the person chosen by the deceased person or court to administer a person’s estate upon their death.
  • What does a personal representative do? The job of a personal representative is to see that the wishes of the deceased person are carried out according to their will or trust.
  • How necessary is a personal representative? A personal representative is an important advocate for your wishes. A good choice is someone whom you trust and who has the time and personal investment to make sure that your estate is properly administered, including managing death certificates, collecting assets, reviewing and signing Court documents, verifying outstanding debts, distributing assets to beneficiaries, etc.

The choice of an estate planning attorney for legal matters is an important and personal one. Please contact our office today to discuss your estate planning needs in Florida.


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.

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.
Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

Unmarried Florida Couples Need Estate Plans

Estate planning is important for everyone but especially so, in the absence of children or a legal spouse, the most common natural heirs when someone passes. For single people, unmarried couples, or couples without children, the absence of a plan or beneficiary designations can lead to unintended consequences, the probate process, and protracted litigation. 

A famous case is the estate of the musician Prince, who died without a will. The lack of a basic estate plan in Florida can result in the loss of financial power and financial decision-making for your unmarried partner or intended beneficiary along with denied or delayed inheritance of important financial assets such as life insurance, investment accounts, bank accounts, real estate, retirement accounts, etc.

Individuals who utilize estate planning legal documents determine the manner in which assets are distributed and account for contingencies. For example, for married people, when a husband dies, assets generally go to his wife, but if she dies without children, the assets could go to her extended family. For single people or unmarried people, one’s extended family is also often the default beneficiary. Additionally, if minor children are involved, estate plans help to determine who cares for them if their parents pass away, whether they were married or not.

Estate planning documents are tools to help plan for the passing of assets or managing incapacitation and medical decisions needed due to injury or illness. Thinking about things ahead of time saves loved ones from additional stress around medical care and healthcare decisions and prevents the dissipation of estate assets through estate taxes, legal fees, and court costs.

At the core of any estate planning tool is a will and durable power of attorney. Choosing the person to designate will demand consideration of both character and temperament. With married individuals, the surviving spouse is typically the default rule; however, it is imperative, you put this in writing. Ithe absence of marriage, long-term unmarried couples may be without recourse if they do not make an estate plan. In the case of incapacitation, the healthcare surrogate will allow someone chosen in advance to make medical treatment decisions instead of a spouse or sibling who may not be preferred for any number of reasons. Additionally, durable powers of attorney generally terminate upon death, so a will or trust must be in place to fully protect everyone involved after the person passes.

If an individual wishes to help loved ones during life and after death, consulting a qualified estate planning attorney may help them understand their options. Our experienced lawyers can assist in planning for all possible contingencies and aspects of estate planning. Contact us today!

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

Why is Estate Planning Important?

Why is Estate Planning Important?

Estate planning is essential to personal financial planning in Florida, albeit focused on the time after your passing. As difficult as it may be to think about, avoiding estate planning results in costly responsibilities for your loved ones. No matter how familiar you may be with this process, we offer many reasons why estate planning is important below.

What is an Estate and Estate Plan?

Before we begin, we want to define an estate and an estate plan. An estate includes everything you own at the time of your death. This includes any financial accounts, liquid or investment accounts, real estate, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, savings accounts, stocks, and personal belongings.

An estate plan is a legal document that says what you would like done with all those assets after you pass away including beneficiary designations. Estate planning includes but is not limited to, powers of attorney (which can be used while one has capacity or in the case of incapacitation) and guardianship for minor children or special needs dependents. A comprehensive estate plan that includes all applicable estate planning documents is also a stronger choice than a will.

Why are Estate Plans Important?

  1. Protects Beneficiaries: The estate planning process is not just for those with a lot of wealth. Whatever is yours is what you want to protect for your beneficiaries. A major goal of estate planning is to legally identify your heirs so that the court doesn’t. It also helps them avoid a potentially lengthy and costly probate process.
  2. Protects Young Children: While none of us expect to pass away while our children are young, it happens sometimes. Establishing an estate plan while you still have minor children and/or special needs dependents means your children will be cared for by the guardians you feel are best for them and with the financial resources you leave behind.
  3. An Estate Plan Reduces Tax Bill for Heirs: Another important component of estate planning is protecting your heirs from undue tax burden for your estate. Estate planning attorneys are experts in tax planning to help you reduce federal estate taxes and state inheritance tax and estate taxes.
  4. Estate Plan Eliminates Family Messes: When you pass away, you want your loved ones to be able to support one another, rather than get caught up in a legal battle for the distribution of assets. Stop potential conflicts and court costs before they begin with an effective estate plan that works best for the unique makeup of your family and financial situation.

Regardless of estate size, an estate plan is an important legal step for anyone who wants to ensure their wishes are followed after their passing or incapacitation. Not only does this help protect your assets for your beneficiaries, but it also allows you peace of mind as well.

If you would like to discuss the aspects of estate planning, establish an estate planning strategy, or update an existing estate plan as your age and circumstances change, contact our expert estate planning attorneys today!