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Fort Myers Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

What are the basics of guardianship law in Florida?

There are circumstances in which Florida residents become incapacitated in some way and are, therefore, unable to make decisions regarding their healthcare or finances. When this occurs, a guardian may need to be appointed by a court. So, what are the basics of guardianship law in Florida?

Well, for starters, it is important to point out that a guardian could be needed for either a child or an adult. For instance, when a child's parents die without naming a guardian in some type of estate planning document, the family member or other person who wishes to step in to take care of the child will need to apply to become a guardian through the court. If that person is so appointed, they will be able to care for the child and make decisions regarding the child's upbringing.

Checking off each step in the estate planning process

For most Florida residents, the first part of estate planning is to "demystify" the process. After all, most people aren't familiar with the various aspects of estate planning that can have a significant impact on your assets. A recent article came up with a "checklist" to help Americans understand what needs to occur on a step-by-step basis in the estate planning process.

The first step is to compile a list of all of your assets and all of your liabilities. Most people have more assets than they realize, when they take into account retirement funds, valuable personal property and investment accounts. Liabilities include all of your debts, including credit cards, mortgages and car loans. Having this list available when you begin the estate planning process is a big part of accomplishing your goals.

Planning is key to helping prevent heirs contesting your will

When you plan your estate, you want to make sure that certain items go to particular people you love or even charities you support. The whole reason people invest in creating an estate plan or last will is to ensure that their wishes will get carried out after their passing. Unfortunately, your heirs may not feel the same way you do about what is fair when it comes to dividing your assets.

When someone feels that an estate plan or last will wasn't fair or right, it's possible that your estate could get contested and end up in probate court. Siblings can fight and relationships can get destroyed quickly over even small amounts of money. Take steps in your estate planning to prevent contestations and arguments over your estate.

The benefits of a properly executed will in estate planning

Many Florida residents are relieved when they finally take the time to have an estate plan drafted, protecting their assets, designating guardians for minor children and including other important instructions in a will. However, taking the time to complete these types isn't enough -- it has to be done right.

The sad reality is that all too often a will is not properly executed and, as a result, when the time comes that the will is needed it may be considered invalid. The same goes for trusts, which can be very complicated, depending on a person's needs, goals and the type of trust selected.

Plan for your special needs child after your death

Raising a special needs child is a challenge for many reasons. Not only do you have to deal with the day-to-day challenges, you also have to think about your child's future. The future of a special needs child isn't certain. The planning can really take its toll on you.

One thing that you need to think about, even though it isn't pleasant, is how your child will be cared for if you pass away. Whether an adult or a child, your estate plan should reflect his or her needs. Here are some points to consider when you trying to make sure that your child isn't left high and dry after you pass away.

What are the biggest myths about estate planning?

Many Florida residents are probably under the impression that estate planning is difficult. In some cases, they are right. But, there are quite a few misconceptions about estate planning. So, what are the biggest myths about estate planning that our readers should know about?

For starters, probably the biggest myth is that the only people who need to worry about estate planning are "rich" people. Why is this the biggest myth? Well, mostly because many people aren't really thinking about just how much they have in assets. Think about it -- the average family owns a home, a couple of cars, retirement accounts, jewelry and many other valuable assets. Are they "rich?" Perhaps not. But they do have quite a bit in the way of assets. Proper estate planning can help ensure that those assets get distributed to the right people upon death.

Understand the complexities of trust administration in Florida

In terms of estate planning documents, trusts are the most likely ones to cause confusion for Florida residents. This is completely understandable, as there are a multitude of options when it comes to establishing trusts, delineating the terms of a trust and administering a trust. Most people know what a will is and what a will does, but a trust can be a bit more complicated to understand.

One of the first decisions that Florida residents need to make when establishing a trust is to decide who will administer the trust. When a trust is irrevocable, this decision can be especially important. But, for trusts that will be administered after the person dies, this decision is crucial as well.

Some signs that you may need to contest an executor in court

Handling someone's estate is a difficult and often thankless job. The executor typically doesn't get paid, beyond what inheritance was already granted in the will, and he or she will need to deal with a lot of stressors. Most people rise to the occasion and do their best to follow the last wishes of someone they loved who has died. Sometimes, unfortunately, the person who gets left in charge of executing a last will or handling an estate simply isn't up to the challenge.

There are a number of reasons why you, as a family member or heir, may need to contest how the executor is handling the estate. Inaction is one. Another could be intentional theft or fraud. You may simply have evidence that the executor isn't capable of fulfilling these critical duties. If you witness any of these keys signs, you may need to prepare for probate court.

How "undue influence" can lead to probate litigation

It can be difficult enough to see a loved one pass away without having to worry about the details of that person's will and how the estate will be distributed to heirs and beneficiaries. Unfortunately, sometimes when the terms of a person's will become known to those who thought they might have a share in the distribution of the estate, it becomes clear that something is "off." When a loved one left a disproportionate share of the estate to one particular person, allegations of "undue influence" can arise.

"Undue influence" occurs when someone tries to persuade a person - usually a person who may be at the end of life, in and out of consciousness or otherwise lacking in a coherent ability to make decisions - to leave large parts of the estate to a designated individual. When other heirs and beneficiaries begin to think that this type of scenario occurred, it may lead to probate litigation.

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