Have You Ever Noticed That People Tend To Plan A Florida Vacation With Much More “Gusto” Than They Do Their Florida Estate Planning?
Many things in life are a question of motivation, and estate planning is no exception. It isn’t too hard to believe that people generally spend a lot more time and energy planning their annual Florida vacation than doing proper Florida estate planning. Do you need some statistics to back that up?
According to Lexis Nexis, a major legal research provider, 55% of Americans do not have a will or any estate plan in place. Forbes as of 2014 puts the number at 62% for folks ages 45 to 54 and 51% for ages 55 to 64, as according to RocketLawyer.com. These numbers, pertaining to those without an estate plan according to Forbes, are slightly better than the public at large which is estimated at 64% of the population. These numbers appear to have worsened from 57% in 2011.
Today, wouldn’t you agree that most people would quickly spend $1,500.oo on a television set and yet balk at spending that to create a simple and effective estate plan to protect loved ones from needless heartache.
Perhaps as a society, we are drifting away from one that emphasizes discipline and character and toward one that emphasizes momentary enjoyment and/or immediate gratification. I know, its a bit heavy to think about but worth considering perhaps?
Why Estate Planning in Florida Deserves the Same Attention as Planning a Vacation?
When talking to folks about estate planning, I sometimes begin to feel the energy draining out of the room and it can be frustrating because this should be a topic of tremendous interest and engagement. Consider the fact that the average person spends thousands upon thousands of hours during his/her lifetime productively working in order to provide for those that he/she loves the most. Further, a random life event could virtually wipe out that lifetime of hard effort and leave those loved ones in a serious predicament. I’ve seen firsthand the results of good planning as well as poor planning and there is a tangible different in the stress level experienced by loved ones.
So to re-frame the issue, when approached with the topic of estate planning, one should rightfully engage the discussion with gusto, as the wealthy often do, because it involves protecting everything that one has worked so long and hard to achieve. The most engaging of these topics involve trusts and estates in Florida, the need for a Florida last will and testament, powers of attorney in Florida, Florida business succession planning, Florida living wills a/k/a medical directives and designations of healthcare surrogate, irrevocable trusts in Florida, family limited liability companies, Florida corporations, limited liability companies in Florida, avoiding probate in Florida . . . and the list goes on.
What happens when major life events happen such as death or disability strike without a proper set of estate planning documents in place?
According to Forbes, Americans often take an “ostrich approach to estate planning” which is a way of described as skiddish and fearful approach akin to bolting or avoiding the topic all together. But what happens to families and loved ones when someone passes without a clear estate plan.
As an introduction for our newcomers to the subject, what is an estate plan?
Because we are Florida estate planning law firm, when I discuss estate planning I refer to a Florida estate plan, as each state has its own rules, by statute and cases, that govern the various documents and aspects of your plan. So, an estate plan in California may be a bit different than one in Florida. Nonetheless, some of these concepts will cross state lines as the basic documents are mostly uniform, noting that there may be different titles and traditions that apply in a particular state.
So, your ESTATE is simply the BODY OF ASSETS and LIABILITIES that you own. This term is often misunderstood as belonging to the wealthy, simply because large estates are more visible and prolific. In a sense, the wealthy have hijacked a term that pertains to ALL people…did you catch that…estate planning is NOT only for wealthy people because we all have an estate of some type.
Next, CREATING A PLAN FOR YOUR ESTATE in Florida (or wherever you are) is about creating a SET of LEGAL DOCUMENTS that WORK TOGETHER to assign the DUTIES and RIGHTS concerning your ESTATE in the event of DISABILITY or DEATH. Another common misunderstanding is believing that your spouse or loved ones will be able to take care of your estate issues without the proper documents or a clear estate plan. This is a highly inaccurate belief because in America, we do not have legal authority over someone else’s affairs simply because we are either married or related to them in some way AND this fact leads to our next question of what happens to loved ones when people pass away without a clear estate plan?
What happens to loved ones when a spouse or family member passes without a clear estate plan can be summarized in 5 typical kinds of bad results.
Every estate planning debacle is unique to the circumstances, so of course some of the 5 negative outcomes may be avoided OR heightened depending on the circumstances surrounding the estate. Just know that the following are all common negative outcomes that are likely to occur in some fashion without a clear estate plan.
- Legal complications
- Added expenses
- Emotional turmoil for loved ones
- Conflict between loved ones
Confusion is a highly likely natural result of a major life event occurring without a clear plan because loved ones simply do not know what to do OR have access to key information concerning the estate.
Communicating the status of assets…
For example, it is important to appoint someone and give them key information about how to access financial accounts. It is also helpful to have a list of real property assets and the status of various debts. Today, it is also important to provide web login information for accounts and other assets, is lack of access can create major complications. Providing a roadmap to where the estate assets are is a huge part of avoiding confusion concerning an estate.
Communicating your wishes in proper legal documents…
Another part of avoiding confusion is preparing clear concise estate planning documents. Our “self help” world is also becoming more complicated and thus it is increasingly important to get the assistance of a qualified professional when preparing your documents. The reality is that the novice simply doesn’t know the red flags to look for and avoid. As the saying goes…you don’t know what you don’t know. Well written estate planning documents work together seamlessly AND are insightful when addressing potential areas of confusion.
Your Florida estate planning documents will determine who gets which assets in your estate AND will appoint the various individuals to handle different aspects of your estate.
Legal complications are another aspect of having no estate planning documents or having poorly written self help documents. Simply put, everything is more difficult without directions. It’s like trying to navigate on the way to your destination rather than taking some time to program the GPS or googlemaps in advance.
An major example of the legal complications that follow when someone passes without a Florida will is the laws of intestacy govern the proceeding rather than the Florida will. So, rather than a simple instruction sheet, identifying the parties to administer and receive the estate assets, a complicated body of Florida state laws will govern the process. Because the state laws simply look for a spouse AND next of kin, and distributing assets EQUALLY between them, the intestacy laws usually do not lead to a desired result.
Added expenses are another aspect of increased legal complications. It is simply more expensive to administer an estate with a lot of question marks, both for the courts and the attorneys, than if a clear estate plan was prepared in the first place. If you’ve read prior posts, you may already know, that a Florida probate can be AVOIDED all together if an effective Florida estate plan, including a well written and insightful Florida revocable living trust, is prepared and maintained. are also a natural result of the additional legal and governmental (court) requirements that apply when someone passes without a Florida last will or other Florida estate planning documents.
Emotional turmoil is always present when a loved one experiences a major life event, and this is only heightened due to the prior 3 scenarios. The fact is that it is always highly emotional when a loved one passes or becomes disabled. The inevitable emotional upheaval is greatly heightened when things are more confusing, more complicated and more expensive than they need to be due to poor estate planning choices. This issue really reveals the key benefit to all estate planning and that is saving loved ones from needless strife and heartache by proving a clear path for them to follow. In this way, a clear estate planning path allows loved ones to focus on what is important which is navigating the grieving process RATHER than navigating needless legal hurdles.
Conflict between loved ones is a natural byproduct of emotional turmoil. It is a known fact within the estate planning community that families may behave very differently upon the death of the loved one than the would otherwise behave. There a number of reasons for this which are mostly related to the grieving process. Let’s just say that the worst can come out during this process; however, the chances of needless family conflict are greatly REDUCED if a clear estate plan is in place and the 4 consequences of having no estate plan, or resulting from a poor self help plan, have been eliminated.
For ALL of the reasons discussed above, I suggest that you do your Florida estate planning with the same zeal that you plan your vacation.
I always find it funny when people rush in to do their Florida estate planning before leaving on vacation. Yes, this is a regular occurrence…
So, what do people do when they plan a Florida vacation and how does this apply to doing a Florida estate plan?
- Typically, people conduct some research to determine their intended destination.
- Typically, people research some options for accommodations and travel to decide upon the most efficient, enjoyable and cost effective option.
- Typically, people set aside time in advance to enjoy their vacation and make arrangements with work, school, etc.
Usually, people follow some variation of the above steps with a great deal of zeal and excitement, anticipating the enjoyment and family bonding time that will typically follow a great Florida vacation.
I suggest that similar benefits are derived from following the above steps concerning your Florida estate plan as follows:
- Do some research on your own and make some initial decisions about what your estate plan will involve…you can identify who you would appoint to handle various roles as well as who will receive your estate assets upon your death.
- Research various estate planning experts (law firms) and decide upon an experienced choice offering you the most accommodating, educational and thorough process to make sure you are educated and your wishes are accomplished.
- Set aside some time to complete the steps needed to create a great estate plan. This can include gathering information about your estate assets, completing a questionnaire, meeting with you desired attorney AND even scheduling some family meetings (possibly with your attorney) to make sure that your loved ones are invited into the Florida estate planning process.
We do offer a Florida estate planning questionnaire on our home page and this is a great tool if you’d like to begin this planning process today.
When you decide to get started, try to do this with the same zeal as you would plan your Florida vacation (I know this may be a challenge). Your may find that the benefits to completing your Florida estate plan are similar to creating that great Florida vacation plan. You may experienced a relaxed feeling, having created a forum for family bonding AND you may experience that inevitable sense of accomplishment knowing that you’ve gone the extra mile and done the right thing for yourself AND your loved ones.
Steve Gibbs, Esq.
This article replaces an earlier version that was originally published on October 19, 2010.