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The five "W's" may help Floridians avoid probate problems

The so-called "five W's" are generally associated with the field of journalism as a way to describe the minimum components necessary to write an informative story. However, using this idea in the estate planning realm can help individuals, including residents of Florida, to organize their thoughts when it comes to planning an estate to help minimize the potential for probate litigation.

The "five W's" are, of course, a short-hand way to remember these basic questions: who, what, where, when and why? In the context of estate planning, it is important to have a clear picture of how one wishes to answer these questions, regardless of the size of the estate.

When planning an estate, clarity of purpose will help to avoid circumstances in which potential heirs might be tempted to contest a will. Making crystal clear who will be receiving what assets, when they should receive them and why the testator has chosen to distribute the property this way might be the difference between a smooth probate process and litigation.

If there are beneficiaries who are young, the use of a trust can limit the amounts they receive over time and help ensure the assets are not exhausted. In addition, trusts can help avoid the probate process altogether. Finally, where the testator is domiciled will have an effect on the planning, as different states have different rules with regard to estate taxes and other probate issues.

It is also important to choose the right person as executor of the estate. The executor will be in charge of the probate administration of the estate, complying with the probate court's orders and making sure the court has the information it needs to administer the estate as smoothly as possible. As can be seen, there are many factors to take into account, regardless of the size of one's estate. Exploring all the legal possibilities and making a sound plan is imperative to ensure one's intent is followed in the distribution of one's assets.

Source: Florida Weekly, "Plan your estate, no matter what the size of your assets," Jeannette Showalter, Feb. 5, 2014

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