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Florida relatives should know estate legal document locations

The death of a loved one is usually a tumultuous time. There are seemingly hundreds of things that need to be taken care of, from funeral arrangements to notification of other family members. Perhaps the last thing on one's mind is the handling of the decedent's estate. Unfortunately, these documents may well be necessary for the next steps in achieving closure.

It is important that relatives know where the legal documents regarding the estate are located before the incapacitation or death of the testator. A well-prepared estate plan likely includes documents such as healthcare proxies, or advance directives that need to be used before the ultimate demise of the planner. It is especially important that the person who the testator has designated as the personal representative of the estate is able to access the documents.

The personal representative is the one who will be responsible for shepherding any will that exists through probate. Probate is the legal process through which the disposal of assets contained in the will occurs. In Florida, the personal representative will have to hire an attorney to help handle such legal proceedings.

There are ways to avoid having assets go through probate, however. The use of trusts has become a quite popular method for distributing wealth to future generations without the time and expense of probate. The use of designated beneficiaries on life insurance, retirement accounts and similar documents can also ensure assets pass through operation of law outside of probate. The titling of certain assets jointly with the right of survivorship can accomplish similar ends.

The exact means by which to make the inheritance process smoother will vary depending on the amount and type of assets involved. It is important that Floridians consider soliciting the advice of an estate planning professional to ensure that the most efficient methods are used, and that one's goals are accomplished. However, one of the most important first steps is to share the estate plan, and the location of the legal documents to the people who will need them when the time comes.

Source:, "Resolving legal and financial aspects of a loved one's estate," Barbara Coenson, March 28, 2014

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