The Law Office of Jennifer T. Dane is pleased to offer basic estate planning services. Every person, no matter how large or small their estate, should have basic estate planning documents prepared by an experienced attorney to ensure that their property is distributed according to their wishes and that a guardian of their choosing is appointed for their child, children or other dependents.
If you already have basic estate planning documents and have recently gone through a divorce, you will want to have those documents reviewed and updated to reflect any changes to your final wishes.
Our basic estate planning package includes a simple will, power of attorney, designation of healthcare surrogate/living will, as well as a power of attorney and healthcare surrogate for minors, if applicable.
What is a will?
A will is a legal document that conveys a person’s final wishes pertaining to property, possessions and dependents. A will allows you to leave your property and possessions to a person or organization of your choosing, name a personal guardian for your dependents, i.e., minor children, name an estate guardian (trustee) to manage any property left to your dependents, and name a personal representative or executor to ensure that the terms of your will are carried out.
Requirements for a valid will
Any person at least 18 years of age of sound mind (mentally competent) or an emancipated minor can make a valid will.
The requirements for a valid will include the following:
- The will must be signed by the testator (the person making the will) at the end of the document
- The will must be signed by two competent witnesses in the presence of the testator and each other
Florida law does recognize what is known as a “self-proving” will. A “self-proving” will requires that the testator and witnesses go to a notary to sign affidavits proving their identity and that they were each aware they were signing a will. A “self-proving” can help expedite the probate process. Otherwise, the court will have to locate the two witnesses to authenticate the will, and if either or both of the witnesses is deceased, incapacitated, or otherwise not available, then the court will have try to other means having the will authenticated. Generally, a “self-proving” will allow the court to bypass this authentication requirement.
Can my spouse and I do a joint will?
Legally, yes. Practically, however, most legal experts advise against it, as it can present significant problems down the road. Joint wills make it virtually impossible for the surviving spouse to change its terms. For example, if the surviving spouse outlives by the deceased spouse by years or even decades, the surviving spouse will not be able to change the terms of the will to account for unexpected or unanticipated circumstances, which may cause the remaining family to suffer as a result.
What happens if you die without a will?
The legal term for dying without a valid will is dying “intestate.” In that case, Florida law will determine what happens to your property and who takes guardianship of your minor children or other dependents.
The Florida Probate Code determines who gets your property if you die intestate. This can be somewhat complicated, especially in these days of the “modern family.” Intestacy succession laws look not only at who the survivors of the deceased person are, but also at their relationship to the deceased persons. In rare cases where the court cannot locate any survivors or descendants, your property will go to the state. For a complete look at the Florida Probate Code as it pertains to intestate succession, look here https://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2011/Chapter732/All
Can I make changes to my will?
Yes. A codicil is a legal document that allows you to make minor changes, amendments or clarifications to your will. The requirements for a valid codicil are the same as those for a valid will.