While preparing an estate plan allows you to address a number of important legal issues, for most people, estate planning is about peace of mind. You want to know that you will receive medical care according to your wishes should you become uncommunicative. And you want to know that, at the time of your death, the burdens on your loved ones will be no greater than absolutely necessary.
With this in mind, while all of the relevant legal considerations need to be addressed during the estate planning process, it is important to address the relevant practical considerations as well. Fortunately, Florida’s estate planning laws and the estate planning tools that are available provide for a significant amount of flexibility. If you put the necessary thought and effort into your estate plan, you can create a plan that addresses the necessary legal issues while also addressing the practical considerations that are likely to have the greatest implications for you and your family.
Planning Ahead for Difficult Decisions
When a person becomes incapacitated or passes away, there are various decisions that need to be made. These decisions can be made in one of two ways. The best option is generally to rely on the person’s estate plan. If the estate plan provides clear guidance, then adhering to the plan ensures that all decisions reflect his or her final wishes.
But, if the person does not have an estate plan or if his or her estate plan is incomplete or unclear, then decision making responsibility falls to his or her family members. While there are legal procedures for determining who has ultimate authority, dealing with conflicts and uncertainty is generally something to be avoided. The simple truth is that there is no reason not to have an estate plan, and preparing a thorough plan is the best way to avoid undesirable complications.
Preparing a Thorough Estate Plan to Protect Your Loved Ones
So, when we talk about “practical considerations,” what exactly do we mean? Here are seven examples of issues which, if overlooked, can create difficult and unnecessary challenges for your loved ones:
1. Making Decisions Regarding End-of-Life Care
Making decisions regarding a loved one’s end-of-life care can be one of the most emotionally challenging events in a person’s life. Regardless of whether you have specific desires regarding your medical treatment in the event that you become permanently incapacitated, preparing an advance health care directive is an important step for protecting your loved ones from being forced to make difficult decisions on your behalf.
2. Distributing Specific Assets to Named Beneficiaries
Many people think about distributing their assets in terms of percentages. For example, a seemingly simple solution for a single parent with two children might be to leave half of his or her estate to each child. However, while this is a step in the right direction, it still leaves a fundamental question unanswered: Who gets what?
If you do not leave specific assets to specific individuals, then your beneficiaries will be left to divide your estate in a way that they find mutually agreeable. While this might not be an issue if you have two children who are willing to work together to divide your estate, the more assets and beneficiaries you have, the more likely disputes become. Disagreements over family heirlooms, real estate, collections, and other prized assets can end up in court – but they can also be avoided entirely with thorough estate planning.
3. Appointing Contingent Beneficiaries
If one of your beneficiaries predeceases you, appointing a “contingent” beneficiary will ensure that you still decide who receives a portion of your estate that you intended for your “primary” beneficiary. Appointing contingent beneficiaries is simple to do, and it can save your loved ones from difficult and undesirable legal proceedings down the line.
4. Appointing a Personal Representative (and a Contingent Personal Representative)
When you die, the person who is responsible for managing your final affairs is referred to as your estate’s “personal representative.” While it is possible to have a personal representative appointed through the probate process, it is also possible – and far more desirable – to name a personal representative in your will. You can (and generally should) name a contingent personal representative as well, in case your primary personal representative is unable or unwilling to serve in the role.
5. Mitigating the Burdens of Probate
Speaking of probate, mitigating the burdens of probate is another important practical aspect of the estate planning process. Probate is the formal court-supervised proceeding for managing a person’s final affairs. And while it is possible to administer a person’s entire estate through probate, utilizing non-probate transfers can significantly reduce the time, cost, and frustration involved in the estate administration process.
6. Making Funeral and Burial (or Alternative) Arrangements
Your estate plan is also the place to make funeral and burial (or alternative) arrangements for yourself. Making these arrangements is often a source of stress for family members, and disagreements can lead to hostility and confrontations. Whether you have specific wishes regarding your funeral proceedings and final resting place or you simply want to set aside a sum of money to cover the necessary expenses, the more guidance you can provide your loved ones, the fewer difficult decisions they will face after your death.
7. Providing for Minor Children or Adult Children with Disabilities
Finally, if you have minor children or adult children with disabilities, then providing for their care and financial stability will be an important practical aspect of your estate plan as well. Appointing a guardian (with his or her consent), setting aside funds, and preserving your child’s government program benefit eligibility are all steps you may want to consider, depending on your personal family and financial circumstances.
Schedule an Initial Estate Planning Consultation in Jacksonville, FL
Do you have questions about estate planning? Are you ready to put an estate plan in place? To discuss your options with one of our experienced attorneys, call our Jacksonville, FL, law offices at 904-288-4414 or request an appointment online today.