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Unmarried Florida couples need to plan to avoid probate problems

All residents of Florida should think about what may happen in the event of their incapacity or death. Planning and having the appropriate legal documents to ensure that one's wishes are followed is something everyone should do. It is especially important for couples who, for whatever reason, do not have the legal protection of marriage.

In Florida, some people choose not to marry, and some face legal obstacles to becoming married to their partners. In either event, estate planning takes on an even greater significance than for married couples. Because unmarried partners lack the protections the law grants to spouses of a deceased person, it is essential that unmarried couples make arrangements ahead of time. At a minimum, they need to consider a last will and testament, so that each partner is taken care of in the event of the other partner's demise. Because wills go through the probate process, and can be challenged in a probate court during that process, unmarried couples may also wish to look into ways of avoiding probate, especially if family relationships have become strained.

There are several ways to do this, from the establishment of trusts, to the opening of joint accounts, and purchase of life insurance policies with the person's partner named as sole beneficiary. Because these types of assets do not fall into the probate process, and instead are awarded directly to the beneficiary, they are much harder for others to challenge.

The time after the death of a beloved life partner is the worst time for legal problems to crop up. While it may be impossible to avoid all hassles in the settling of an estate, a proper estate plan will go a long way toward minimizing the stress that the surviving partner will have to endure, as well as allowing that partner access to critical assets.

Source: orlandoweekly.com, "How to estate plan yourself into relative safety, even if you're gay," Billy Manes, Nov. 6, 2013

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