I have often emphasized the importance of having a professionally prepared estate plan to protect yourself and your loved ones. However, I haven’t said much about the actual results of a bad Florida estate plan (or having no plan) and how this impacts families.
Common Results of a Poorly Conceived Bad Florida Estate Plan
There are a number of common results of a bad Florida estate plan and the following are the most common in our experience. Numerous circumstances can arise so the following common results of a bad estate plan should be considered examples of the kinds of things that can happen. My hope is that this will just inspire your thinking and offer you guidance as to the negative circumstances that can arise and why good Florida estate planning is so important.
The Most Common Results of Bad Florida Estate Planning Are:
- Old or poorly executed documents and problems with their reliability
I would describe old estate planning documents in Florida is any set of estate planning documents that are more than 5 years old and the older they are, the more likely that problems will arise and there are a few important reasons for this. First, old documents often include deceased witnesses or witnesses from locations away from your current state of residence. Old documents are also often not notarized due to changes in the legal requirements over many years. So if a document isn’t notarized and the witnesses cannot be located, that will may not be admissible in probate court and this leads to chaos because the intestate “no will” plan will often be entirely different from what the will specifies.
Another common problem resulting from a bad Florida estate plan is the appointment of “interested” witnesses. Many are not aware, including legal zoom apparently, that a will that is witnessed by someone who is also a beneficiary may be presumed invalid due to what we call “undue influence”.
So it is important to get regular estate planning checkups in Florida and have your plan updated at least every 5 years.
- Wrong family members appointed to key roles
Another characteristic of a bad Florida estate plan is appointing the wrong people to do the wrong things. Sometimes appointing a Florida trustee or other designated role as the “favorite” child seems like a great idea at the time. However, this is an area that requires some professional discretion because what appears to be a cordial relationship between family members during the parents’ lifetime can turn into chaos after the parents pass and this leaves one sibling to “lord over” the rest. Often times these poor arrangement result in estate litigation.
- Poorly described plan leading family conflicts over uncertainties
Similar to number 2 above, a bad Florida estate plan is a poorly drafted plan, such as a lack of clarity about who gets what assets, can lead to significant sibling rivalry in Florida estate planning or other needless family conflicts. Often times, parents assume that everyone will just “get along” and often when a death occurs this is not the case. Sometimes the first thing out of a sibling’s mouth is “where is my money”. While the reasons for this are most appropriate for those in the mental health professions, I do believe that grief and charged emotions are often a cause. A well prepared plan can eliminate much of this “drama”.
- No documents or estate plan leading to confusion
These are the worst kinds of scenarios resulting from bad Florida estate plan occur when no one knows where the assets are OR what mom and/or dad wanted or what to do? These situations are generally the most expensive because professionals such as lawyers and investigators may need to be hired just to begin to make sense of the mess. From there, expensive court proceedings may need to be commenced to simply decide where to distribute the assets. Most of the time, no one is happy except for the long lost relative who ends up with the bulk of the estate. But I digress…
- No documents leading to expensive probates or guardianship proceedings
Similar to number 4 above, bad Florida estate plan occurs when there are simply no estate planning documents. No documents can result in big a payday for lawyers much of the time because a great deal of work is required simply to determine the status of the estate.
A Florida probate administration costs will likely be substantially increased if there was no plan in place because “additional services” may be required to help the court figure it all out. If a parent has not yet passed away and is disabled, expensive guardianship proceedings are often required in order for a family member to assist the ailing parent, where a simple Florida durable power of attorney, medical directive in Florida and/or guardianship declaration in Florida would have avoided this complicated process.
So why do people elect the “no plan” plan or create a bad Florida estate plan? I believe the most common reason for this is they believe that the poorly articulated plan is “simpler”. I have seen many fall by the wayside in the name of simplicity and unfortunately what appears simpler is often flawed with error because things do not always happen the way one thinks they will. Other reasons may be cost obsession or simply not having been advised properly. In fact, legal forms websites and part time estate lawyers can end up costing much more due to the estate fallout.
In summary, the negative possibilities resulting from a bad Florida estate plan are far reaching. On a positive note, a well prepared Florida estate plan is designed for the sole purpose of bringing order to the chaos and the goal is to and foster harmony among family members in very difficult circumstances.
Steve Gibbs, Esq.