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Wills and Trusts in Estate Planning

It’s never easy to consider a world in which you are no longer present, but this process is critical for the protection of your legacy — and for the wellbeing of your loved ones. Equipped with a will, you can enjoy greater peace of mind in knowing that your wishes will be carried out.

 What Is a Will?

A will is an essential estate planning document that allows you to highlight your wishes for your property and the care of your minor children. Wills can vary dramatically from one person to the next, but all share the purpose of clarifying your intentions for the future.

 What Can Be Included in a Will?

Wills are among the most versatile estate planning documents. Each is tailored based on the unique preferences of the estate holder. A few of the most common elements included in wills are highlighted below:

 Guardianship Designation

If your children are still minors, it is crucial that you determine who will care for them if you pass away before they reach legal age. This can be highlighted in your will, but you’ll also want to discuss the prospect of guardianship with the selected individuals well in advance.

 Overview of Assets

Every will should contain a thorou

gh list of assets that you currently possess. This should include not only property that holds significant monetary and personal value, but also items that seem of little consequence or will ultimately be handled through other estate planning methods.

 Identities of Beneficiaries

Who will inherit your property after you die? Known as beneficiaries, these individuals or organizations should be highlighted in your will. Additionally, your will should reveal which beneficiaries will receive which items or how the monetary value of your property will be divided among them.

 Personal Representative (Executor) Selection

Your will should include a personal representative commonly known as an executor, who will be responsible for administering your estate and following all instructions your will contains after you die. This person should be trustworthy and highly competent. Select somebody who is willing to take on this important role — and provide ample notification to avoid surprises down the road. 


Why Are Wills So Important?

No matter how old you are or how much property you possess, you can benefit from drafting and executing a will. Without this critical document, you risk all kinds of unforeseen consequences. Chief among these: your property may not be granted to your beneficiaries as you see fit.

If you pass away prior to completing a will, your situation will be deemed ‘intestate.’ Essentially, this means that the distribution of your property will happen according to the laws of the state. In all likelihood, this will not occur according to your preferences.

A will can prove valuable even if you are not particularly worried about what happens with your property after you pass away. While the state is technically responsible for cases involving intestate individuals, a lack of clear directions can prompt its fair share of drama among family members, who may disagree adamantly as to how you would have wanted property distributed or other critical matters handled. A detailed will removes all doubt, thereby making it easier for loved ones to get along during a difficult time. 

While the specific stipulations highlighted in your will are important, you may ultimately discover that designating your personal representative delivers the most peace of mind. Once you’ve chosen a trustworthy personal representative, you can rest assured, knowing that your estate lies in capable hands. 

 How We Can Help You Complete Your Will

The process of creating a will can be complicated and an attorney can provide valuable advice and guidance every step of the way.

Top reasons for working with an estate planning lawyer to complete your will include:

  • Ensuring compliance with all applicable state laws regarding wills.
  • Ensuring compliance for all applicable tax laws at the federal and state levels.
  • Handling complications related to business ownership, retirement accounts, and other unique factors that may prove difficult to navigate on your own.
  • Assisting with guardianship designation or other family matters. For example, your lawyer can advise on practices for designating guardianship or beneficiaries if you have children from multiple relationships.

No matter how complicated or simple your estate may seem, you can benefit from the assistance of a skilled attorney. When you work with us, you will receive personalized support from a legal advocate who truly cares about you and your loved ones. There is no need to navigate this complicated process on your own — we are happy to help!

Trusts in Estate Planning

When it’s time to complete or update your estate plan, one tool you may want to consider is a trust. Trusts serve a variety of purposes and offer several benefits when compared to wills and other estate planning devices.

The Judy-Ann Smith Law Firm provides customized, professional estate and trust planning services, including drafting revocable and irrevocable trust agreements designed to help Floridians meet their goals for managing and distributing their wealth.

Understanding Trust Basics

At a basic level, a trust is a way to transfer ownership of assets either during your lifetime or after your death. In doing so, the person creating the trust (the “grantor,” “trustor,” or “settlor”) transfers control to a trusted individual or professional, called the “trustee.” The trustee is responsible for following the terms spelled out in the trust agreement.

The most common type of trust is a revocable living trust, sometimes simply called a “living trust” or an “inter vivos trust.” With this type of trust, the grantor and the trustee are often the same person during the grantor’s life. But, if the grantor becomes incapacitated or dies, the trust agreement names one or more successor trustees who can step in seamlessly to continue administering trust assets.

Why Consider a Trust?

Trusts offer several potential benefits, both to the people who create them and to their loved ones:

  • Avoid guardianships. By providing for ongoing management and trust administration throughout the grantor’s lifetime, trusts can avoid the need for court-ordered guardianships if incapacity strikes.
  • Probate avoidance or minimization. Assets that are owned by a trust also generally pass free from probate court when someone dies. This means those assets can be distributed faster and without the time, hassle, and expense that probate court can bring.
  • Asset management. Trusts are a popular planning tool for people who are concerned about their beneficiaries’ abilities to manage an inheritance. Inheriting through a will generally means beneficiaries receive lump-sum distributions. In contrast, trusts can be used to manage and distribute assets for years — or even the beneficiaries’ entire lifetimes — after the grantor’s death.
  • Protect beneficiaries’ interests. Many people use trusts as part of a strategy to help ensure their beneficiaries will receive their intended inheritance. People who want to protect both a current spouse and descendants while also providing for descendants from previous relationships can use trusts to do so.
  • Tax planning. If your estate could be subject to estate or generation-skipping transfer taxes when you die, using one or more trusts could help minimize the taxes your loved ones will pay. Life insurance trusts can also create liquidity to pay those taxes.

Different Trusts Serve Different Functions

Trusts can be revocable or irrevocable. With a revocable trust, the grantor reserves the right to amend the trust in part or in whole, or to revoke it entirely during his or her lifetime. Revocable trusts are an extremely versatile and flexible planning option, letting the grantor retain complete control over trust assets.

Irrevocable trusts, in contrast, cannot be changed and assets transferred to an irrevocable trust are no longer considered the grantor’s assets. In this way, irrevocable trusts may help lower the tax burden when someone dies.

It is also possible to create a trust inside of a will. When you do so, it is referred to as a “testamentary” trust. With a testamentary trust, you don’t actually have a trust in place during your lifetime. Instead, you create the framework for that trust inside your will, but the trust does not spring into being until after your death. This is a common tool used for parents planning to protect their minor children in cases where a separate revocable trust does not make sense.

The Judy-Ann Smith Law Firm Can Help You Evaluate Options and Implement Solutions

As you can see, trusts serve many purposes. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for estate planning. While trusts are fantastic additions to some people’s estate plans, they do not make sense for everyone. The best way to determine whether or not a trust should be part of your overall estate plan is to schedule a consultation with a skilled, knowledgeable estate planning attorney.

At the Judy-Ann Smith Law Firm in Jacksonville, we know that your estate planning needs and goals are as unique as you are. We will work with you to create a plan designed to achieve those goals. To learn more about trusts and why you may want to consider one, contact us today.