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Work With An Expert Wills, Trusts And Estates Attorney

Everyone has an estate. Your estate is comprised of everything you own such as your car, home, checking and savings accounts, stocks, bonds, cash, investments, IRA, life insurance, personal property, furnishings and furniture. An estate plan is established so your assets will be distributed in accordance with your wishes upon your death. If you become incapacitated, your estate and health care will be managed by the person you appoint and not a court-appointed guardian. For young married couples, an estate plan includes the appointment of a person to care for their minor children and manage their assets in the event of their death or incapacity. It is important for everyone to have an estate plan.

The estate plan may include a will, trust, beneficiary designation, joint account and other similar instruments, power of attorney, health care directive and living will. An improperly drafted estate plan or the failure to have one in place may result in unintended consequences.

At Lyons, Beaudry & Harrison, you will work with an attorney who is certified by The Florida Bar as an expert in wills, trusts and estates to help draft an estate plan in accordance with your expectations and wishes. 

Create An Estate Plan To Manage Your Estate During Your Lifetime And Beyond

Every person, regardless of the size or complexity of his or her estate, needs a will. A will, at its most basic level, is a written document that expresses your wishes as to whom will inherit your estate. The will names a personal representative to manage your estate after your death. A will can create trusts called testamentary trusts and provide for a wide range of distribution options. A will is effective only upon your death.

You can create a revocable trust (also known as the “loving trust” or “living trust”). The creator of the trust is known as the settlor or grantor. The trust agreement appoints a “trustee” to administer the trust assets according to the trust terms.

The trust terms can vary to a wide degree and greatly affect the administration of the trust and any litigation involving the trust. The trust can include provisions to protect you from financial exploitation and undue influence. Normally, you are the initial trustee of your own revocable trust and appoint a person to act as the successor trustee upon your death or incapacity. Unlike a will, a trust is effective immediately. The transfer of your estate to the trust may avoid probate, but the trust assets still must be properly administered, including the provision of notices and accounting to your beneficiaries. Even if you created a revocable trust, a will is also needed to devise assets that will not be subject to the trust administration or to “pour over” assets still held in your individual name to the trust.

During your lifetime, you can add or withdraw assets from the trust and make any trust decision. Basically, you can do whatever you want despite the trust terms. However, upon your death or incapacity, the successor trustee must follow the terms of the trust and may be subject to personal liability for the breach of his or her duties to the trust and beneficiaries. This can create unintended consequences for you, your trustee and your beneficiaries.

A properly designed will and trust can help avoid these unintended consequences, keep your family members from fighting over your belongings during an emotional time and lessen the chance of probate litigation or trust litigation. A power of attorney, advance health care directive and living will are also important parts of your estate plan.

Creating Estate Plans Based On Federal Estate Taxes

Not long ago, estates worth more than $600,000 were subject to federal estate taxes. The federal government exempted estates with less than $600,000 from the federal estate tax. However, those parameters are no longer accurate. Your estate plan may have been drafted with these federal estate tax exemptions in mind and should be reviewed and revised. The federal government can increase or reduce estate tax exemptions at any time. As of 2023, the federal estate tax exemption is almost $13 million, but it could be reduced to $5 million as early as 2026.

Not only has the federal estate tax exemption been greatly increased over time, the federal government also now permits portability, which is the transfer of a spouse’s federal estate tax exemption to the surviving spouse. Therefore, it is important that your estate plan be flexible to adjust to any future changes in the federal estate tax law.

With this substantial increase of the federal estate tax exemption, many clients are taking into consideration the federal income tax benefits of estate planning as the value of your estate will receive a “step up” in federal income tax basis based on the date of your death.

At Lyons, Beaudry & Harrison, we can create estate plans to take advantage of the federal estate tax exemption, portability and associated income tax benefits as well as provide flexibility for any future estate tax changes.

In addition to revocable trusts, an estate plan can consist of irrevocable trusts to take advantage of the federal estate tax exemption to benefit your family and future generations, and other estate planning opportunities. Except under limited circumstances, irrevocable trusts cannot be amended or revoked.

At Lyons, Beaudry & Harrison, we can work with you to create trusts for estate, income tax and charitable planning, including:

  • Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT)
  • Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT)
  • Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust (IDGT)
  • Qualified Terminable Interest Property Trust (QTIP)
  • Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT)
  • Charitable Lead Trusts (CLTs)
  • Charitable Remainder Trusts (CRTs)

Helping You Properly Implement Your IRA And Retirement Plans

Most individuals have an IRA, 401(k) or some other type of retirement plan. All of these plans provide you with the opportunity to designate a beneficiary. Retirement plans, such as an IRA, may make up a significant portion of an individual’s estate. It is important to properly designate the beneficiary of the plan. In most instances, the designated beneficiary will be a spouse or a child. While retirement plans are part of your estate for estate planning purposes, there are income tax disadvantages in naming your estate as a beneficiary. If you intend to designate a trust as a beneficiary of a plan, the trust must be carefully drafted. If not properly addressed, an IRA or other retirement plan can create adverse income tax or estate tax consequences for you and your beneficiaries.

Recent changes to the federal laws governing such retirement plans set a time limit for the beneficiary to make withdrawals from the inherited IRA, 401(k), or retirement plan. At the same time, the recent changes to federal laws have expanded the estate planning opportunities for children with special needs or other disabled persons.

At Lyons, Beaudry & Harrison, our Florida board-certified attorney in wills, trusts and estates will work with you to incorporate your retirement plan into your estate plan.

You can reach us by phone at 941-366-3282 or contact us online. Our offices are located at the corner of Main Street and Orange Avenue in Sarasota, Florida.

Frequently Asked Questions About Wills, Trusts And Estates

Estate planning is a complicated subject, so it is likely that many people, including our neighbors who reside in Sarasota County and Manatee County and surrounding communities such as Sarasota, Bradenton, Venice and Lakewood Ranch have questions about how wills function under Florida law and the benefits of a trust. At Lyons, Beaudry & Harrison, our experienced attorney helps clients understand their options. We create estate plans that include wills and trusts specially crafted to address each client’s unique family, assets and goals. We have provided answers to some of the most common questions we receive about wills and the benefits of a trust, but we urge you to meet with us to learn more.

Do I need an attorney to draft my will, or can I do it on my own? What are the benefits of hiring an attorney?

Florida law allows individuals to write their own will, which is valid as long as it is properly witnessed. While such wills may be valid, many times they are not effective, subject to challenge and otherwise problematic. A knowledgeable estate planning attorney knows what questions to ask in order to fully understand your financial situation and your wishes. The estate planning attorney can work with you to draft an effective and valid will as part of an estate plan that may include other tools such as trusts.

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Do I have enough assets to create a will?

Everyone needs a will, no matter how few or many assets they have. A well-drafted will helps ensure that your property goes exactly where you want it to go once you are gone. Even if you have few assets, you will be making things easier for your family by creating written instructions that spell out your final wishes. Your will can also contain a directive stating your preferences for cremation and burial, celebration of life and other post-death matters. Even if your assets are held in a trust, jointly owned with survivorship rights or held with other survivorship features such as a beneficiary designation, pay on death or transfer on death accounts, you need a will to address assets that are otherwise held in your individual name.

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What happens if I die without a will?

Dying without a will (dying intestate) means that Florida law governs what happens to your property. A court will appoint someone to gather your assets and distribute them to your heirs as decided by the Florida Probate Code. If no heirs can be found, your property may pass to the state. The grieving process is often made even harder when a decedent does not leave a will.

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What is the difference between a living will and a will?

A living will is a type of advance directive, a document that directs the providing, withholding or withdrawal of life-prolonging procedures in the event of serious medical conditions. This type of advance directive is permitted by the Life-Prolonging and Procedures Act of Florida. You may designate a person, in your living will, to carry out your wishes. A living will differs from a will, which is a document in which you direct the distribution of your assets upon your death.

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What are the benefits of having a living trust vs. a will?

A living trust, also known as a revocable trust, is a tool that allows you to retain control over your property and assets while you are alive, and then have that property managed and distributed over time according to your wishes once you have died. Typically, bank accounts, real property and other assets are placed into this type of trust to simplify the probate process and give you maximum control. A trust can be used to transfer control over the trust property during your lifetime to an individual trustee (a person whom you trust) or a corporate trustee when you are suffering from diminished capacity and/or are susceptible to undue influence and financial exploitation. Trusts work in conjunction with a will, which governs any property or assets that are not included in the trust.

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How can I update or change my will?

When someone creates a will, they retain the power to change that will for as long as they live. There are two ways that an experienced estate planning attorney can help you make changes or updates. The first way is to draft an entirely new will. This is often the right choice if there have been major changes in your life, assets or wishes. Another option, called a codicil, is created in the same way as a will but only includes the instructions you wish to add or change.

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Contact An Attorney Who Is Board-Certified In Wills, Trusts And Estates

The team at Lyons, Beaudry & Harrison is ready to help you with your will, trust and estate planning issues. Call us at 941-366-3282 or contact us online to make an appointment today. Our Florida board-certified specialist in wills, trusts and estates is ready to meet with you in our offices conveniently located at the corner of Main Street and Orange Avenue in Sarasota, Florida.