Your Will or Testament
A last will and testament is a legal document that expresses how a person wants his/her property to be distributed at death.
Include In Your Will
Your will should include:
Guardianship - If you have children, you can name a guardian to look after them when you're gone
Assets - Describe who gets your personal items, vehicles, valuables, and heirlooms
Real Property - State who takes ownership of any homes or buildings you own.
What A Will Does
A will allows you to:
Name beneficiaries for property
Name guardians for children
Name property managers for children's property
Name an executor
Instruct how taxes and debts should be paid
Revise it as needed
FAQs About Wills
1What is a "last will?"
A will is a written document directing who gets your possessions upon your death. With a will:
You decide who gets your property
You can name a qualified personal representative (executor) of your will to manage your estate. The representative can be a person, bank, or trust company.
Real estate and other assets can be sold without court proceedings, if your will authorizes it.
You decide who bears any tax burden, rather than the law making that decision.
You can name a guardian for your minor children, in your will, without the expense of proceedings for guardianship of property.
You can create a trust in your will allowing a portion or all of your estate to be kept intact with income distributed to or accumulated for the benefit of members of the family or others.
2If I don't have a will, does the State of Florida get all my money?
If you die without a will, your property is distributed to your heirs by a formula fixed by law. If you have absolutely no heirs, (highly unlikely) only then may your property go to the State of Florida. If you die without a will, the court appoints a representative to manage your estate. You may or may not know the representative. Your heirs will have to pay for probate court, and this cost may be more than if you had a will.
3What is a "valid" will?
In Florida, for a will to be valid and binding:
You must be at least 18 years old
You must be of sound mind when you sign your will
The will must be written
The will must be properly witnessed and notarized
The will must be properly prepared in accordance with Florida law
The will must be proved valid and accepted by probate court before it is effective.
4Can I write a will myself?
When writing a will there are many important decisions that require professional understanding and judgement of a trained, educated professional. An attorney can help make sure your will is created properly so it is valid in the eyes of the court.
5Can I leave my assets to anyone I want?
Generally, you can transfer your property as you wish. However, Florida law limits certain conditions. For instance:
If you jointly own property with another person(s) with the right of survivorship, such as joint ownership between a husband and wife, Florida law gives surviving spouses automatic ownership.
In some circumstances, a residence and adjoining lands owned by a person who is survived by a spouse or minor child, up to 1/2 acre within limits or an incorporated city or town, or up to 160 acres outside those limits, will be automatically passed on to the surviving spouse or minor child.
Property owned only for the life of the owner.
You may not disinherit your spouse without a properly executed marital agreement. The law gives a surviving spouse a choice to either his or her share under the will or a portion of your property determined under Florida's "elective share" statute.
6Can I change my will?
Yes. You can change it as needed such as when circumstances change such as births, deaths, marriage, and divorce. Additionally, if your assets or tax laws change, you may want to have your lawyer review the situation to determine if updating is necessary.
7What's the difference between a will and a trust?
A revocable, or "living" trust is a document that manages your assets during your lifetime, and distributes the remaining assets after your death. Revocable means you can change or terminate the trust at any time during your lifetime, as long as you are not incapacitated. With a trust, you name a "trustee" to manage your assets in the trust. Most people are their own trustee while living, and name a "successor trustee" to manage the trust after their death. There are two main differences between a will and a trust: 1. With a trust, the successor trustee does not have to go to probate court and can transfer assets without court supervision, where an executor of a will must file the will in probate court and transfer assets through the probate process. 2. In Florida, probated wills and other court documents become public records, but trusts do not.