Some Simple Estate Planning Tips

By: Kim Douglas Sherman, Esquire.

How many times have you thought, “I should make a will?” Then there is the old quip
about “nothing is so certain as death and taxes.” There are some simple things that you should know and do about planning your estate. They are not expensive or hard to do, either. “Probate” is the court process that transfers property out of deceased person’s ownership.


Probate takes some time and some money, so you would like to avoid probate, if you can. If you are married, everything that you own titled as “husband and wife” will pass automatically to the surviving spouse. For those assets, there is no need for a probate proceeding. And for the rest of your assets? Think about putting your real estate into joint ownership “with a right of survivorship.” For your financial accounts think about making the accounts “payable on death” to your intended heirs. These are easy, simple solutions that take very little effort on your part.


However, this article is being written by a lawyer, so you should expect something a little more complex. If you do not have a spouse (or your spouse is infirm), you really should have three important documents for dealing with your estate. Two of the documents are for use while you are still alive. First, have a Durable Power of Attorney prepared that designates who you trust to take care of you and your assets in the event that you are unable to do the job for yourself.


There is no reason to let the Court appoint someone or some entity unknown to you and that doesn’t know you either.


The second document is a Living Will; it directs how you want yourself to be treated if
you are near death. Not only does the living will allow you to die with dignity, in the form currently being used here in Florida, you get to express your desire to have experimental methods be used, to donate your still usable body parts, to donate your body to medical research, and to decline having your body subjected to autopsy. Most important, your living will allows you to empower the person or persons your chose to be able to direct the medical providers to pull the plug and give up the ghost.


Third, is the good old-fashioned Last Will and Testament. In your will you get to say how what you want done with your remains and who should do it. You get to designate who you want to take care of your estate, not just the gathering and transferring the assets, but paying your last bills, going through your drawers, and cleaning out your refrigerator. Just don’t miss the opportunity to put in a provision that allows you to give specific items of personal property as may put on a “list”. If you have such a provision in your will, you can change your list with a stroke of your pen and not have to keep changing your will. Isn’t that convenient?


My final advice is to make your own plans for your funeral and internment. Those you
leave behind probably will have enough grief, they should not have to deal with those decisions. And, if your intent is to pass along more of your estate, funerals and burial plots are less money if pre-paid.


There is no reason to delay and every reason to take care of your important personal
business. Make the plan you want.