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February 8, 2021

Many people hear the word “estate” and imagine lavish homes or significant wealth. The reality is that when planning for your estate, the property you may consider insignificant is often an underestimation on your part. Before you decide you don’t need a will and assume you have no real property, consider the following information first and then speak with an experienced estate planning attorney. From them, you can learn more about the many options available to ensure your final wishes regarding your assets get followed.

What Makes an Estate?

Your estate contains everything that you own when you die. This could include a home, retirement accounts, or a business. But, you don’t have any of these, so what else is part of your estate?

  • Bank accounts
  • Vehicles
  • Your pets
  • Personal belongings
  • Intellectual property
  • Life insurance policy
  • Stocks/Bonds

Surprised? Suddenly, you have an estate, and now you need to figure out what happens to it all in the event of your death. While some of these assets get transferred using a beneficiary form, like for a 401k you might have, many do not have this option (or this may not be the best option for your situation). For instance, if you have young or irresponsible beneficiaries, this might not be the best option.  An estate plan can ensure that your wishes are carried out and even let you put some contingencies in place to determine if and when your beneficiaries can inherit your assets.

What Happens without a Will

When you die without a will (also called intestate succession) as a resident of Florida, your assets are subject to state succession laws when it comes to the distribution of your property. Before a court designates who receives what, an executor first must be appointed. They have the duty of taking inventory of your estate in order to determine its value as well as settling any outstanding tax or creditor obligations you left behind. Whatever is remaining will then get distributed to your heirs determined by law.

This entire process is known as probate, and it can take months or even a year to complete depending on if anyone in your family contests the court’s decisions regarding your estate. In addition to this being a lengthy process, there are court fees, attorneys fees and federal estate taxes to your loved ones may be liable for, as well.

Worse, a relative you never wanted to receive your estate may end up with it, like an estranged parent or some other family member that you aren’t close to. Believe it or not, you could also unintentionally disinherit children from a prior marriage without careful planning.  As you can see, many of the above outcomes are not something you would want for your surviving family. These scenarios are why it is vital to work with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney to set up a plan for your property before it is too late.

Reasons Why a Will Is Necessary with Little to No Property

Now that you have a better understanding of what assets are in an estate and that a will manages more than just property, you may wonder what situations warrant having one even if you have little to no property.

Designate a Guardian for Your Children

While our children are not property, they require a guardian if we are no longer with them. In Florida, you can designate such a person for your minor children in the event you die prematurely or become incapacitated. You also have the option of assigning someone to safeguard any property you leave behind that your children will inherit at the age you stipulate.

Protect Against Family Conflict

When you die without a will, it is possible family members could argue over your remaining property, as insignificant as you believe it to be. Whether for sentimental value or on the belief that a certain loved one should inherit part of your estate, the best way to head off family conflict and contested probate proceedings is to draw up a will.

This is especially beneficial if you are part of a blended family where you or your spouse have children from a previous marriage in your home. Dying intestate can lead to fighting over assets between loved ones and cause an irreparable rift. Leaving behind clear instructions on how you wish your assets to be distributed are vital to maintaining family bonds.

You Have Personal Property

From valuable comic book collections to a closet full of high-end purses, our personal belongings may not seem like valuable property worthy of a will, but remember that much of your property is subject to probate without one. Sentimentality is a valid reason to determine how your belongings should be distributed after you die. Maybe you just want it all donated to a charity shop, but if you don’t have this desire in writing, it may all end up in an estate sale instead. Maybe you play guitar, and your brother or sister loves listening to you, then you should make sure you have a will set up to ensure they receive your instrument as a memento they can cherish.

The Time to Create Your Will is Now

Choosing to forego a will because you believe you do not own enough property to need one is a common mistake many Floridians make. The reality is that all of us have some form of property, and we need to plan how it will get distributed when we pass away. A qualified estate planning attorney is the perfect choice to evaluate your assets and draw up a will on your behalf.

At The Legacy Law Firm, we work with you to protect the best interests of your estate so that your chosen beneficiaries receive the assets you want them to have. We help you avoid common mistakes that could put your estate in jeopardy with creditors or probate situations so that your loved ones have their long-term needs met after you pass away. Call us today at (954) 999-9683 or contact us online to discuss your unique situation, learn more, and get started.