Wills & Probate
When a loved one passes away, the family is left to grieve and determine how to split up the assets. If the decedent had a Will, the decedent’s property will be distributed as outlined in the Will.
WHAT IS A WILL?
A Will is a written document that directs the distribution of property at death, states who will care for and distribute that property, and names someone to care for your minor children. Each state has its own requirements for legal Wills.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I DIE WITHOUT A WILL?
If you die without a valid Will, the State of Florida will decide how to distribute your assests. Normally, your property will be distributed to your relatives in a certain manner based upon your relationship to those individuals.
HOW LONG IS A WILL VALID?
A Will that meets all of the state requirements is valid until it is changed or revoked by the maker. Changed circumstances (such as marriage, divorce, birth, adoption, death, or changes in tax laws) may require an addition or correction to the Will. These changes may be reflected in a document called a codicil. The codicil must comply with the same requirements as the original Will. However, you may need to completely redo the Will if the changes are substantial ones. Wills may be changed as often as their makers wish, as long as they meet the legal requirements.
WHAT IS PROBATE?
Probate is a formal court proceeding that occurs after an individual’s death and serves the following purposes:
1) It allows the decedent’s assets to be distributed to the beneficiaries after the payment of all debts and charges against the estate, and cuts off further claims by creditors against the property distributed.
2) It also allows the transfer of clear title of the decedent’s real estate (which was not held in joint tenancy with someone else who had the right of survivorship) to the beneficiaries.
Probate laws are designed to protect the rights of heirs and creditors and to assure the orderly collection, preservation, and transfer of property. If you die with an ownership interest in any property, your estate generally must be probated whether you have a Will or not. The court will determine whether your Will is valid or determine who is to receive the property if there is no Will.
WHAT PROPERTY IS DISTRIBUTED WITHOUT A WILL?
Certain assets which are distributed outside of a Will include the following:
1) Life insurance. Money from your life insurance policy will go to the people you have named as beneficiaries on the policy, no matter whom you have chosen to receive property in your Will, unless you designate your estate as the beneficiary, you fail to name a beneficiary, or in certain cases if the person named does not survive you.
2) Retirement plans. Money from your retirement plan will go to the people you have named in the plan, with or without a Will, unless you designate your estate as the beneficiary, you fail to name a beneficiary or in certain cases if the person named does not survive you.
3) Property owned as joint tenants. You may own real estate, bank accounts, or other property with another person(s) as joint tenants. Your co-owners will inherit your share if they have rights of survivorship, no matter whom you have named as heirs in your will.
4) Living trusts. Property you have placed in a living trust during your lifetime will go to the trust’s beneficiary, with or without a Will, unless you designate your estate as the beneficiary, you fail to name a beneficiary or in certain cases if the person named does not survive you.