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Basics of Avoiding Probate With an Estate Plan

Families in Florida or around the country without an estate plan face the possibility of being subjected to costly court fees and legal disputes. Assets may not be accessible during the time it takes the probate court to oversee the proper distribution and payment to the appropriate heirs and creditors. Even with the existence of a last will and testament, court oversight is still required.

However, there are a variety of ways to avoid probate. Transferring property to a revocable trust removes it from your estate and court oversight, yet it allows you to retain control of your assets as trustee. Trusts can also be used for the transfer of assets to children by naming a trustee. Even if your guardian isn't good with money, your chosen trustee can manage and distribute the assets according to your wishes, and the guardian can provide for the daily care of your children that are under the specified ages according to state laws. Probate is not required if you leave your entire estate to your spouse, provided all assets are jointly owned and do not exceed the estate tax exemption. Finally, for property like life insurance policies, naming a specific beneficiary allows the direct transfer of assets after death.

In addition to a will to provide for any assets not included in the trust, you should also have a healthcare proxy and durable power of attorney in your estate plan. The former appoints someone to make medical decisions if you are unable, and the latter designates a person to handle your financial affairs if you are incapacitated.

It is important to set up an estate plan with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney. Once established, review it periodically, especially with every major life events, like births, deaths or divorce.

Source: Forbes, "Estate Planning: Your Need-To-Know", May 24, 2013

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