Most people who are over 30 likely remember the name Terri Schiavo. This is probably especially true of those of you in Florida. The Schiavo case captured the attention of the nation, and its politicians, and remains controversial today. No matter what you think of the controversy, there is a lesson to be taken from that case, where a husband and parents found themselves in court litigating, in front of the entire nation, whether Terri should or should not be taken off life support.
Many Florida residents may have heard of, or read about, the benchmarks that smart people use to determine their goals for retirement savings. Depending on whom one asks, this can be a million dollar figure, or a certain percentage of your current income. Some experienced financial professionals, however, say that a static figure is not best for everyone, and that proper retirement planning may require a more introspective approach than simply pulling a figure out of the literature.
In a survey done in 2012 by a legal website, it was indicated that only about 41% of members of the "baby-boom" generation have a will. Reportedly, even smaller numbers of individuals belonging to younger generations have an estate plan. Due to the high number of retirees in Flordia, these numbers have an even larger impact than in other states. According to people in the estate-planning field, there are several legal documents that people should secure sooner rather than later.
Perhaps the most important thing any Florida resident should do when estate planning is to write and properly execute a will. Without a valid will, a person's estate passes to relatives according to state law. A valid will directs the court on how to distribute the estate according to the person's own wishes. However, a will can't do everything, and there are times when a well-crafted estate plan needs something more.
Florida law requires that valid wills be in written form. Orally telling another person how one wants to legally divide one's estate will is generally not enforceable in court. Nevertheless, Floridians need to understand that merely writing the will may not be enough either. The document must meet certain legal standards, and, sometimes, a directive in the will may be found to be invalid, even if the will is otherwise properly executed.
Many Floridians realize, especially as they get older, that they will not live forever. Most probably understand that they need to plan for how their worldly goods will be distributed after they are gone. It is also important, however, that one's estate plan contain some plan for disposal of one's own mortal remains.
As is being widely reported, the divorce rate amongst the baby boomer generation has remained steady, even as the rate amongst other age groups has declined. Older people whose children are now out on their own are getting divorced, and states with large populations of older people, such as Florida, are affected by the trend. Because divorces are difficult and there are so many considerations, one important aspect that often gets short shrift is a divorced person's retirement and estate plan.
Many Floridians are likely aware of the need for an estate plan. The use of various documents to dispose of property and protect both assets and oneself in the case of incapacity has been written about voluminously. Further, many resources have cropped up, especially on the internet, ostensibly allowing people to create their own legally valid estate plan documents.
Estate planning is about assets, certainly, but it is also about something more: how one's life's work will continue to affect others once one is gone. Or, to put it more simply, what one leaves as a legacy.
As many Florida residents may know, the use of trusts in estate planning has become a relatively common practice. Trusts are a useful way of avoiding probate and attempting to ensure that assets are distributed according to one's wishes. Trusts can also protect assets from waste by a financially irresponsible beneficiary.