Going through probate means that a deceased person’s estate goes through the court when it gets administered. There are simple forms of probate in Florida, as well as some types of probate that are more lengthy, complicated, and expensive. There are ways to keep your estate out of probate and get your assets to your intended heirs quickly and with relative ease.
This blog will talk about how to avoid probate in Florida and offer strategies and tips for doing so. A Florida probate attorney can help you create an estate plan that helps your estate avoid probate.
Minimize What You Own Individually
The probate court cannot distribute things that are not your separate property. If you title something with someone else as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship,” The assets will become the sole property of the last joint tenant living. The downside of the strategy is that you lose significant rights to the asset during your lifetime when you title it this way, and you cannot change your mind and undo the joint tenancy.
You can keep real property (land, houses, and other kinds of buildings) out of probate by signing a deed that gives the property to someone else, by you retain a life estate in the property, which is the right to live in the property for the rest of your life. You cannot revoke the life estate deed if you change your mind, for example, if you want to move or if you need to sell the property for a financial crisis like medical bills.
Keep Accounts out of Your Estate
Similar to transferring property into joint ownership or transferring some of your rights to real property now and all of them in the future, you might be able to keep some accounts from ever going into your estate by setting up a beneficiary of the account. The advantages of using this strategy are that, unlike joint tenancy or giving someone a life estate, you do not lose any of your rights to the asset during your lifetime, and you can change your mind at any time.
Here is how this strategy works:
- Life insurance. Name an individual or organization as the beneficiary of the policy proceeds. Do not leave the beneficiary designation line blank or choose your estate as the beneficiary. When you pass on, the policy proceeds will go directly from the insurance company to the beneficiary, not to your estate, so the money is not part of your estate and does not go through probate.
- Bank accounts and brokerage accounts. You can add someone’s name to your checking, savings, brokerage, or similar account, but not as a co-owner. Designate them as “transfer on death” (TOD) or “pay on death” (POD) instead. They have no rights to the account during your lifetime, but the asset transfers to them at the moment that you die, which legal fiction keeps the asset out of your estate.
- Retirement account. Similar to a life insurance policy, you can designate a person or an organization as the beneficiary of the remainder of your retirement account.
Be sure to keep a copy of these designations with your legal papers and verify that the company followed your instructions about the beneficiary.
Make Sure That You Do Not Die Intestate
Even if you arrange things so that your most significant assets pass to your intended beneficiaries outside of probate, your estate will still have to go through probate court if you die intestate. Intestacy means that you die without leaving a valid will or trust.
Intestacy takes longer to administer than estates with a will or trust. If you have a will, though, the court will not have to determine the identities of your legal beneficiaries or distribute your assets to them. If you have a living trust, you can avoid probate entirely.
There are numerous types of living trusts. They do not go to probate court, unlike intestacy or a will, so your privacy gets protected. The administration costs are often less with a living trust than with intestacy or a will. Unless it is an irrevocable living trust, you can change the beneficiaries, assets, and other terms at any time.
There are advantages and disadvantages to the different strategies to avoid probate in Florida. You will want to talk to a Florida estate planning attorney about the strategies that will work best for you in your situation. Reach out to our office today for help with your case.