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Know the Difference: Wills vs. Trusts

Do you know the differences between “will” and “trust”? Both are useful estate planning devices that serve different purposes, and both can work together to create a complete estate plan.

Will characteristics:

  • A will goes into effect only after you die
  • A will only covers property that is in your name at your death
  • A will passes through a court process called Probate. In Probate, the court oversees the will’s administration and ensures the will is valid and the property gets distributed the way the deceased wanted.
  • Because a will passes through Probate, it’s a public record.
  • A will allows you to name a guardian for children (Note: Our firm recommends that in addition to this, you use a stand alone guardian nomination.)

Trust characteristics:

  • A trust can be used to begin distributing property before death, at death or afterwards.
  • A trust covers only property that has been transferred to the trust. In order for property to be included in a trust, it must be put in the name of the trust.
  • A trust passes property outside of probate, so a court does not need to oversee the process, which can save time and money.
  • A trust remains private Unlike a will, which becomes part of the public record, a trust can remain private.

Consult with a qualified attorney to advise you on how best to use a will and a trust in your estate plan.

This article is a service of the Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we guide our clients to help make things as easy as possible for themselves and their families in case of death or disability.

When Something Is NOT Better Than Nothing- Part 2

In part one of this series, we discussed the hidden dangers of do-it-yourself estate planning. In part two, we cover one of the greatest risks posed by DIY documents.

Maybe you think that you can save time and money with DIY documents you find online.  You’re probably anxious to check estate planning off your life’s to-do list. These forms may tempt you because they seem quick and easy. And you’re busy, so why not? Unfortunately, this is one case in which SOMETHING is not better than nothing.

But DIY wills lead to the false sense of security that you have things covered. But the reality is that those generic forms could end up costing your loved ones more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing anything at all.

In this way, DIY wills and other legal documents are among the most dangerous choices you can make for the people you love. These generic documents can leave the people you love most of all—your children—at risk.

Children at risk

First, it’s probably distressing to think that by using a DIY will you could force your loved ones into court or conflict if you become incapacitated or die.

Second, if you’re like most parents, it’s probably downright unimaginable to think about your children’s care falling into the wrong hands. But that’s exactly what could happen if you rely on free or fill-in-the-blank wills found online, or even if you hire a lawyer who isn’t equipped or trained to plan for the needs of parents with minor children.

Naming and legally documenting guardians involves a number of complexities that most people aren’t aware of. Even lawyers with decades of experience frequently make at least one of six common mistakes when naming long-term legal guardians.

If wills drafted with professional help are likely to leave your children at risk, the chances that you’ll get things right on your own are pretty much zero.

What could go wrong?

If your DIY will names legal guardians for your kids in the event of your death, that’s great. DIY documents are too risky!  Consider these factors.

  1. Does it include back-ups?
  2. If you named a couple to serve, how is that handled? Do you still want one of them if the other is unavailable due to illness, injury, death, or divorce?
  3. What happens if you become disabled and are unable to care for your children? You might assume the guardians named in the DIY will would automatically get custody, but your will isn’t activated if you become disabled.
  4. What if the guardians you named in the will live far away? It would take them a few days to get there. If you haven’t made legally-binding arrangements for the immediate care of your children, it’s highly likely that they will be placed with child protective services until those guardians arrive.
  5. Even if you name family who live nearby as guardians, your kids are still at risk because it’s possible they might not be immediately available if and when needed.
  6. And who even knows where your will is or how to access it?

The Kids Protection Plan®

To help ensure your children are never raised by someone you don’t trust or taken into the custody of strangers (even temporarily), consider creating  a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®, which our firm is trained in.

Get the right “something”

Protecting your family and assets if you die or become incapacitated is too important to do on your own. No matter how busy you are or how little wealth you own, the potential disasters of DIY documents are simply too great.

Plus, proper estate planning doesn’t have to be super expensive, stressful, or time consuming. We offer options for all budgets and asset values.

Also, many of our clients actually find the process highly rewarding. Our systems provide the type of peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’ve not only checked estate planning off your to-do list, but you’ve done it using the most forethought, experience, and knowledge available.

Act now

If  you haven’t done any planning yet, contact us to schedule a Planning Session. This evaluation will allow us to determine if a simple will or some other strategy, such as a living trust, is your best option.

If you’ve already created a plan—whether it’s a DIY job or one created with another lawyer’s help—contact us to schedule an Estate Plan Review and Check-Up.

No matter what you do, make sure  have a “something” that’s actually better than nothing. Contact us and we’ll provide you with that level of confidence—and so much more.

This article is a service of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.

That’s why we offer a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session for free.

When Something is NOT Better Than Nothing – Part 1

Online you’ll find tons of websites offering cheap wills. Simple wills, for example, often cost less than $50. And you can complete and sign the forms pretty quickly.

In our super-busy lives and DIY culture, this might seem like a good deal. You know estate planning is important, and even though you may not be getting the highest quality plan, those documents can make you feel better for having checked this item off your to-do list.

But this is one case in which SOMETHING is not better than nothing, and here’s why:

A False Sense of Security

Creating a DIY will online can lead you to believe that you don’t have to worry about estate planning anymore. You got it done, right?

Except that you didn’t. You thought you “got it done” because you went online, printed a form, and had it notarized.  But you didn’t bother to investigate what would actually happen with that document in place in the event of your incapacity or when you die.

In the end, what seemed like a bargain could end up costing your family more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing anything at all.

Creating a DIY will can lead you to believe that you no longer have to worry about estate planning. In the back of your mind, you might even promise that one day you’ll revisit and update your plan with something better. But chances are, having done “something” will lead you to put this off until it’s too late.

At least if you do nothing,  estate planning will still be on your to-do list. (But then you’re at the mercy of the state’s “default settings,” which might really go against your wishes for yourself and your family.)

It’s More Than Just a Document. 

Unfortunately, many people don’t understand that estate planning involves much more than just filling out legal documents. So they end up making serious mistakes with DIY plans. Worst of all, these mistakes are only discovered when you become incapacitated or die, and it’s too late. The people left to deal with your mistakes are often the very ones you were trying to do right by.

The main purpose of wills and other estate planning tools is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your death or incapacity. With the growing popularity of DIY wills, thousands of families have learned the hard way that trying to handle estate planning alone can not only fail to fulfill this purpose, it can make the court cases and conflicts far worse and more expensive.

Watch Out For Hidden Dangers!

There are many potential dangers involved with DIY wills and other estate planning documents. Estate planning is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all deal. Even if you think you have a simple situation, that’s almost never the case.

These are some of the most common complications resulting from DIY wills:

#1 Improper execution:

For a will to be valid, it must be executed (i.e. signed and witnessed or notarized) following strict legal procedures. Such procedural requirements are designed to prevent foul play and vary by state. For example, many states require that you and every witness to your will must sign it in the presence of one another. If your DIY will doesn’t mention that or you don’t read the fine print and fail to follow this procedure, it can be worthless.

#2 Court challenges:

Before the assets covered in a will can be transferred to your heirs, the will must go through the court process called probate. During probate, creditors, heirs, and other interested parties have the chance to contest your will or make claims against your estate. Though wills created with an attorney’s guidance can also be contested, DIY wills are far more likely to be challenged.

#3 Thinking a will is enough:

Very rarely is a will enough to handle all of your legal affairs. At your incapacity, you would also need a health care directive and/or a living will plus a durable financial power of attorney. At your death, a will does nothing to keep your loved one’s out of court. And if you have minor children, having a will alone could leave your kids at risk of being taken out of your home and into the care of strangers, at least temporarily.

In many ways, DIY will planning is the worst choice you can make for the people you love because you think you’ve got it covered, when you most certainly do not.

If you’ve yet to do any estate planning at all, have DIY documents you aren’t sure about, or  created a plan with another lawyer’s help that hasn’t been updated or reviewed in the past 2 years, call us. We can help keep your family out of court and of conflict when something happens to you.

This article is a service of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Planning Session,  during which you’ll get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call us today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session for free.

In part two of this series, we cover one of the biggest dangers with DIY wills.

The Key Differences Between Wills and Trusts

Image result for paperwork

Many people, when they think about estate planning, focus on a will. But wills aren’t the only option, and there’s a lot more to an estate plan than just a will.

Luckily, if you use other tools, such as trusts, you can help keep our loved ones out of court. How do you know whether a will or trust is best for your personal circumstances? The best way is to meet with an attorney for a planning session, to review your goals and needs. From there, you can make the right choice for the people you love.

In the meantime, here are some key differences between wills and trusts:

When they take effect

A will only goes into effect when you die, but a revocable living trust takes effect as soon as it’s signed and your assets are transferred into the name of the trust. A will directs who will receive your property at your death, and a trust specifies how your property will be distributed before your death, at your death, or at a specified time after death. This is what keeps your family out of court if you become incapacitated or die.

Because a will only goes into effect when you die, it doesn’t protect you if you become incapacitated and are no longer able to make decisions about your financial and healthcare needs. If you do become incapacitated, your family will have to petition the court to appoint a conservator or guardian to handle your affairs, which can be expensive, time consuming, and stressful.

However, with a trust, you can appoint someone to manage your medical and financial decisions for you. This helps to keep your family out of court, which is a huge deal during emergencies when decisions have to be made quickly.

What property they cover

A will covers any property solely owned in your name. A will does not cover property co-owned by you with others listed as joint tenants, nor does your will cover assets that pass directly to a beneficiary by contract, such as life insurance.

A trust can cover property that has been transferred, or “funded,” to the trust or where the trust is the named beneficiary of an account or policy. So if an asset hasn’t been properly funded to the trust, it won’t be covered, so it’s critical to work with an attorney who can help you properly fund your trust.

Unfortunately, many lawyers set up trusts, but don’t make sure that assets are properly re-titled or beneficiary designated, and the trust doesn’t work when your family needs it.

Administration

In order for assets in a will to be transferred to a beneficiary, the will must pass through the court process called probate. The court oversees the will’s administration in probate, ensuring your property is distributed according to your wishes, with automatic supervision to handle any disputes.

Because probate is a public proceeding, your will becomes part of the public record upon your death, allowing everyone to see the contents of your estate, who your beneficiaries are, and what they’ll receive.

But trusts don’t have as much court involvement, which saves time and money. And because your trust doesn’t get recorded with the court, its contents stay private.

Cost

Wills and trusts do differ in cost—not only when they’re created, but also when they’re used. Generally, will-based plans are a lot cheaper than trust-based plans. For example, depending on the options you choose, you might spend an average of $1,500 for a will-based plan. With a trust-based plan, depending on the options you choose, you could spend about $4,000 to set it up. But wills have to go through probate, where attorney’s fees and court costs can add up, especially if the will is contested. That can cost a lot more than setting up a trust in the first place. In addition to the financial costs, think of how much time it is spent in administering a will through the probate process.

The probate process in Florida is not a fast process. Your loved ones could have to wait for months before getting permission to access certain accounts, receive their inheritance or get Court permission to sell property. With a properly funded trust, you can save a lot of time.

When you meet with attorney Myrna Serrano Setty, she’ll carefully analyze your assets and help you design an estate plan that offers maximum protection for your family’s particular situation and budget.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she helps her clients make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for themselves and their loved ones. Contact her firm at (813) 514-2946 to get started.

The Last Will and Testament of a Procrastinator

If you don’t have a Will, the State of Florida has one for you. And you may not like it! It is called intestate succession and the consequences are serious. This is an example.

Last Will and Testament of Paul Procrastinator

I, Paul Procrastinator, a resident of Tampa, Florida, am using the default settings set by my home state of Florida.

Article One: My family consists of my Second Wife and my children from my first marriage. Some of my children are minors and some are grown up with their own families.

Article Two: I direct the Probate Judge to appoint anyone of his or her choosing to administer all property in my name and distribute it under the terms of this Will.

Article Three: I direct that the Administrator pay all my debts, including taxes, probate fees, administrative fees, and attorney’s fees.

Article Four: I leave one-half of my home to my Second Wife and one-half to my children from my first marriage. But my Second Wife can decide if she wants to use the home for her lifetime, and then the home goes to my children after she dies. She only gets 6 months after my death to decide.

Article Five: I leave one-half of my cash to my Second Wife and one-half to my children from my first marriage.  If any of my children are minors, their share will be held by a Guardian. The guardian may be anyone of the Probate Judge’s choosing, even my First Wife.

Article Six:  I will let my Second Wife and my children decide which items of my personal property, such as my boat, my golf clubs, and my great-grandma’s antique jewelry, they should get. They can figure it out.

Article Seven: When each of my minor children reaches age 18, I direct that his share be then paid to him outright, regardless of his financial or emotional maturity.

Article Eight: If my Second Wife does not survive me, I direct that her share be added to my children’s shares. If none of my children survive me, I direct that my home and the rest of my property go to my Second Wife, leaving nothing for my grandchildren.

Article Nine: If I am not survived by my Second Wife or any of my children, I direct the Probate Court to look for my closest blood relatives and divide my estate among them in a way which gives an equal share to them or their descendants. If no relatives are located, I direct that all of my property go to the State.

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Don’t let the state of Florida draft your Will. Don’t accidentally disinherit your children or grandchildren. We can help. Call us today at (813) 514-2946 to get started on your estate plan.