A To-Do List for Estate Planning in St Johns County, Florida

At the Preddy Law Firm, P.A. our goal is to help families in St. Johns County, Florida and the Jacksonville area avoid frustration and fear when it comes to estate planning. By being proactive instead of reactive, a family can save time, anxiety, and money in the case of a loved one’s death. Estate planning is important to help families make better decisions, reduce conflict and have peace of mind while dealing with estate matters. This type of planning is important for all families no matter your net worth.

A TO-DO list for Estate Planning:

Take an Inventory of Intangible Assets

Creating a list of your intangible assets with contact information is critical in assisting families to determine what you owned at your death. Identifying assets that would pass by beneficiary designation is immensely helpful to the family. If there is no record of your ownership in property, the family will not be able to collect the proceeds. Such items include life insurance policies, IRAs, 401-k or other retirement plans, bank accounts, stock certificates, and bonds, and the like.

Keep an Inventory of Deeds, Titles, and Business Agreements

Documents showing ownership in real estate, various types of vehicles, and business ownership interests are an important part of your inventory. Typically, a family will spend months trying to piece together what type of ownership you may have had in various properties or businesses. By keeping these documents in one place, they can be assured they will likely not miss anything to pass on to the family. 

Take an Inventory of Tangible Assets

Document all important items you own worth over $1,000 as well as items that have sentimental value to you, located both in and outside of the home. This includes vehicles, jewelry, antiques, guns, and collectibles in the home or stored away from the home. This makes it easier for anyone to keep track of property in the estate. Florida law allows you to create a list of gifts as long as you itemize the item to be gifted, name the beneficiary and sign at the end of the list. This would be an ideal time to prepare that list.

Document Debts and Credit Cards

Prepare a list of debts for which you currently are indebted. While your family may not be personally liable for your debts, it must be documented if probate proceedings are needed. Secured creditors will also maintain their right to take property, so keeping your family informed as they make legal decisions will be a significant help to them. Debts include existing mortgages, auto loans, home credit lines, bank loans, and any other debts you may owe others. Moreover, include open credit cards. Use this time to close out any credits cards that are not in use.

Execute Advanced Directives

Advanced Directives allow a person to step into your shoes and make decisions for you in case of your absence or incapacity. A durable power of attorney gives another the authority to manage all your financial affairs. A Health Care Surrogate names one to handle your medical decisions when you cannot. A Living Will is used to give guidance to your Health Care Surrogate as to your wishes if you are in an end-state condition. Finally, a Preneed Guardian names the one who you would want to serve as guardian if court appointment of a guardian was ever needed. Choosing a trusted person in advance avoids infighting or questions as to who would be the best person to serve in that role. Further, by choosing to name your agent and surrogate, thousands of dollars will be saved by avoiding a court supervised guardianship in case of your incapacity. Because of the scope of their roles, careful consideration must be made when selecting a person.

Execute Your Last Will

It is important to have a last will in place. No one likes to think of the inevitable. However, estate planning is not for you, but for your loved ones. Your last will governs the division and distribution of assets and other valuables in the estate. It will also be used in naming a guardian in the case of minor children. A last will which clearly lays out your intentions should bring peace of mind to your family. Trusts should also be established in the last will for various reasons, including the case of property passing to a minor, incapacitated or one who has substance abuse issues. Depending on the nature of the assets you own, revocable or irrevocable trusts may also need to be executed to avoid probate and estate taxes.

Ensure Safekeeping of the Estate Planning Documents

It is important to keep all documents ready and have them kept safely until the time they would be needed. There are organizations that keep such valuable documents safely. However, your agent or personal representative must be given access to the documents when the owner will be incapacitated or deceased. Leaving passwords is an important part of helping them access your property. Ideally, your estate planning attorney should hold your original estate planning documents to avoid loss or destruction of the documents.

Discuss Your Estate Plans with Your Heirs

Inheritance matters can be emotional and complicated issues. Avoidance is not a strategy for a smooth transition upon your passing. Having a discussion with your heirs in advance about any concerns or questions, outline your plans with the above techniques, and seek legal counsel to be fully informed of all of the possible options and outcomes. These steps will prevent confusion and are beneficial to conveying to your family exactly what you intend to happen after your death.

Rose Marie K. Preddy, Esquire, owns the Preddy Law Firm, P.A. in Jacksonville, Florida. Ms. Preddy has over 20 years’ experience representing families and other clients in estate planning, guardianship and probate matters. Please do not hesitate to contact Rose Marie with any questions.

The Preddy Law Firm, P.A. website is intended to inform firm clients and friends about legal developments and news in Florida estate, trusts, guardianship and probate matters.