Estate Planning Overview & Process
Timing is everything. It is easy to put off life planning decisions, but sometimes life doesn’t happen the
way we expect. For your family, it is important to decide what will happen to your assets and who will
manage your financial and health care decisions well in advance of the instance an untimely event
arises. Some strategic planning now can save you and your beneficiaries substantial frustration and
emotional or financial hardship in the future.
Everyone has an estate. Your estate includes everything you own and is not simply limited to real estate,
funds in your bank accounts, or life insurance. Estate Plans can include everything from remarriage
protection, creditor protection, protecting family members with special needs, to even caring for pets
after you are gone. To pass away without a valid Will, Trust or Estate Plan means you die intestate and
your estate is divided and distributed pursuant to a statute that may not reflect your wishes. This means
it will go through probate and can be far more costly than simply administering your estate plan
following your will, or even avoiding probate through a trust or other planning technique. If you are not
certain how your estate plan will be implemented upon your death or disability, and how your family
and assets will be affected, we encourage you to come in and talk to us.
Why should you trust us with your estate plan? Christopher K. Caswell has been counseling individual
and business clients not only on their estate plan, but also with their wealth planning in general. In
addition to a double major in Mathematics and Computer Science, an MBA, and JD degree, Mr. Caswell
is also a Certified Financial Planner who speaks frequently to large and small groups about wealth
planning, real estate, and business transactions. In combination with our experienced staff and team of
lawyers, we cater to your individual needs by taking the guesswork out of the process and make it a
priority to provide counseling for our clients to understand their goals, dreams, aspirations, fears and
Berlin Patten Ebling provides legal advice, drafting and representation of clients, testators, grantors,
beneficiaries, children, trustees, and personal representatives in Florida regarding the following
personal estate and financial planning legal matters:
- Estate plans, including Last Will and Testament, Revocable Living Trust, Codicil, Amendment,
Beneficiary Designations, Durable Power of Attorney;
- Health care plans (living will, declaration of preneed guardian, designation of health care
surrogate, health care proxy);
- Special Needs planning and public benefits planning;
- Asset protection plan (life insurance, tenancy by entirety agreement, homestead, creditor
exemption, car title);
- Probate & Trust Administration(formal, summary & ancillary administration of decedent
estates, handling claims and rights of beneficiaries); and
- Litigation of probate, guardianship and trust disputes (claims, suits, proceedings, will
contests, adversary proceedings).
Reviewing and Maintaining Your Existing Plan
Many times we are asked whether and to what extent an estate plan needs to be reviewed, or even whether anyone needs an estate plan. While there is no absolute answer to this question, clearly, everyone should be fully aware and educated about what will happen to them, their family and their assets if they become disabled or when they die. All adults should have a viable, professionally prepared Will or Trust based plan. Your Will and Trust are instrumental in determining who will manage your estate, how those assets are distributed and who should benefit from your assets.
In addition, we are often asked whether a client needs a new estate plan when they move to the state of Florida. The answer depends on a variety of circumstances, however, we strongly recommend that new residents have their estate plan reviewed not only to determine whether the documents will be valid under Florida law, but also to determine whether the estate plan still achieves the desired results. Issues may have arisen that might affect the estate plan or that may require additional modifications.
When should you have your will or estate plan renewed or reviewed?
At a minimum, everyone should have at least a will and should have their estate plan reviewed every two or three years. This would include reviewing your named fiduciaries in the ownership of assets and funding of your trusts. For more advanced estates, overview of beneficiary designations, life insurance policies, tax implications and the overall effectiveness of your estate plan is always necessary. Some other trigger events include:
- The birth of children or grandchildren
- The purchase or sale of real estate
- Changes in beneficiaries, family and circumstances
- Pet protection
- Remarriage protection
- Business restructuring and ownership
- Changes in the law
- Changes in assets and investments
Probate and Estate Administration
Administration of your estate requires attention to the details of asset identification and valuation, review and understanding of the will and/or trust documentation that controls the administration, compliance with document filing and creditor notification and negotiation, accounting and reporting requirements, and other technical processes that may arise depending on the estate plan, the estate and the family circumstances.
Perhaps a personal representative or trustee is sophisticated and can do a lot of this administrative work themselves. Perhaps an institutional trustee or personal representative has been named to handle these details. Legal representation will almost always still be required to make sure that the required court processes of probate and statutory requirements for trust administration are followed. We can help you and your fiduciaries through these forests.