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The Basics of Estate Planning

Everyone knows what a will is, although statistics show that nearly half of Americans do not have one. We are all too busy dealing with our lives to think about will happen when they are over.

Everyone, however, can benefit from an understanding of the basic concepts of estate planning. With that in mind, following are some terms you should understand:

  • Probate — The court-supervised process of administering the transfer of assets belonging to the deceased to his or her heirs. All Florida estates must go through probate.
  • Decedent — The legal term for the deceased person.
  • Personal Representative — Known as the Executor in many states, this is the Florida term for the person selected to manage the disposition of the estate.
  • Trust — A legal arrangement whereby possession of assets is transferred to the care and control of another party (the trustee) to manage for the benefit of the original owner (the grantor or settlor). There are several types, each offering various tax and legal advantages.
  • Elective Share — The portion of an estate that a surviving spouse automatically has a right to claim, regardless of what it says in the will. The portion in Florida is 30 percent.
  • Estate — The total value of all assets owned by the decedent at the time of his or her death.
  • Intestate — Describes the situation where a person dies without leaving a will.
  • Codicil — A formal supplement, amendment or addition to a will.
  • Advance Directive — A formal document giving health care instructions to be followed if a person becomes incapacitated.
  • Tenancy — Describes the legal type of ownership of property, such as tenancy in common, joint tenancy with right of survivorship and tenancy by the entireties. The type of tenancy affects how shares of property are distributed upon the death on one owner.

The most important thing you need to know about estate planning is everything you do not know, which is why anyone thinking about estate planning should begin by contacting a knowledgeable and reputable Florida estate planning lawyer.

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