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Florida parents need estate plan to protect their families

Planning for one's death is never a pleasant exercise; the contemplation of one's mortality can be a frightening thing. However, it is a necessary precaution for Floridians to take, especially if they are parents.

The unfortunate fact is that decisions not made today in this regard will be made down the line by someone. Usually, in the case of estate planning matters, that someone is a probate judge. It is likely that the judge will know nothing about the deceased, or the status of their familial relationships. When cogitating on a will or probate situation, most people will think of the monetary ramifications. While leaving a stable financial situation for one's family is important it is not the only consideration.

The probate judge will attempt, to the best of his or her ability, to determine the wishes of the testator, and what the best living situation will be for any children involved. It is quite possible, in the absence of clear and legally enforceable instructions from the deceased, that a family member who looks good "on paper" will be selected to be guardian of the kids. This is likely a couple with a stable income and housing situation, but not necessarily the people that the testator would have chosen, knowing more specifically about the couple's lifestyle and their relationship. There is also the possibility that, absent being able to contact a close relative and without any legal recourse, children could be taken into state custody until the issue of who has legal authority to care for them is determined.

Thus, a simple will may or may not be the best choice for parents. It may be a better idea, both financially and personally, to use a tool such as a revocable trust, to avoid the probate process altogether. In any event, clear and legally enforceable estate planning documents are essential to ensure that one's wishes are followed in the case of an untimely departure from the world.

Source: Sun Sentinel, "Family estate planning: Where to begin," Elise Rodriguez, Esq., Oct. 25, 2013

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