Throughout my years of practice I have provided my clients with simple tips to streamline the estate process, which includes the following:
- Purchase a prepaid burial or cremation plan. This will take the burden away from your Personal Representative and prevent misunderstandings from occurring with family members. The prepaid burial or cremation plan should be attached to your Last Will and Testament, so that it is easily accessible to your Personal Representative.
- Designate beneficiaries for all of your financial accounts. This includes checking, savings, money market accounts, annuities, stocks, bonds, IRAs, 401Ks and any other financial accounts. Financial institutions will refer to designated beneficiaries as either “payable on death” (POD), or “in trust for” (ITF). You should list a first and second choice for beneficiaries.
- For those of you that have a terminally ill spouse and all of your assets are held jointly, you need to open a separate bank account and credit card solely in your name. The reason for this is that upon your spouse’s death, many financial institutions will automatically freeze the bank account, or credit card account that has a decedent’s name on it, because of identity theft issues. The account will eventually be unfrozen, once a certified copy of your spouse’s Death Certificate and the proper paperwork has been provided to the financial institution. Obtaining a Death Certificate can take several months depending on the circumstances of death. Be sure to have at least 3 months of living expenses in your separate bank account.
- Carefully consider your choices for a Personal Representative. I always recommend you have a first and second choice for a Personal Representative, because the first choice could predecease you, or be unable to serve. When considering a Personal Representative, it is never a good idea to select someone that is in poor health, or very elderly, or who lives far away. You should also ask the person you are considering to act as your Personal Representative if they are willing to serve. If no Personal Representative is willing or able to serve, then the Court will appoint someone. According to Florida Statute 733.303, someone is not qualified to be a personal representative, if the person: (a) Has been convicted of a felony; (b) Is mentally or physically unable to perform the duties; (c) Is under the age of 18 years. According to Florida Statute 733.304 a person who is not domiciled in the state cannot qualify as personal representative unless the person is related by blood (including adoptive child) or marriage.
- Finally, keep all of your estate planning documents together and in a safe location. A safe deposit box is always a good idea. Also, be sure to let your Personal Representative know the location of your estate planning documents.
I hope this blog post has been helpful. I am available to help you with all of your estate planning needs.