Writing a will is a perfect example of how an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Writing a Will while you are alive and healthy will save your family a lot of trouble after your death. Here’s a step-by-step guide to preparing a Will in Florida.
Step 1: Consider who you need to provide for in your Will
First, make a list of everyone you need or want to provide in your Will. If you die without a Will, Florida probate law says all of your assets will be divided between your surviving spouse and dependents.
You can also include in your Will:
- Distant relatives (i.e. nieces, nephews, and cousins)
- Close friends
Make a list of everyone you want to leave assets to, so you are sure no one will be left out.
Step 2: Identify all your assets and determine where they go in your Will
Then, create a master list of all your assets. Include everything, from your home and investment accounts to family heirlooms or sentimental items. Do not forget:
- Life insurance
- Retirement accounts
- Intangible assets (e.g. cryptocurrency accounts)
- Digital assets (e.g. social media accounts, photo accounts)
With a full list in hand, work with your estate planning attorney to determine which assets automatically qualify (such as joint bank accounts and insurance claims). Ensure that the right beneficiaries are designated for these intestate assets. Everything else should be considered in your Will.
Step 3: Decide who to name as a personal representative
With these lists in hand, you are now ready to write your Will. Start by deciding to take over the probate process. This personal representative is the person who will handle all the affairs of your estate after you pass. Choose someone who has the practical and financial skills to manage your assets, work with your creditors, and care for your family.
Step 4: Name a guardian for your children
If you have minor children, your Will must also name a guardian to care for your children if you and your spouse are unable to do so. This can be a grandparent or a godparent. Having children to inherit when they are young is also a reason to create a revocable trust instead of a Will. This trust protects the money you leave to your children and allows a trustee to manage their care and support. Talk to your attorney about how a trust can protect and care for your children years after you’re gone.
Step 5: Be specific about who should receive which assets
As a testator, the person making the Will has a lot of control over who gets which assets. Describe each gift as specifically as possible. This could mean:
- Use of heirs’ full names (instead of “my son”)
- Assign a fixed dollar amount or a percentage to specific bank accounts (e.g. “25% of US bank account ending in XXXX”)
- Include legal descriptions of real property or VINs of vehicles.
- Make a numbered list of tangible items and place labels or stickers on items with the same number
- Create a “residuary clause” that explains who will inherit something you didn’t specifically provide.
Step 6: Prepare for the unexpected
A common mistake people make when learning how to write a Will is assuming that circumstances will not change until the Will is probated. A Will often takes years, if not decades, to be written before a judge reads it. A lot can change in the meantime. Your estate planning attorney can help you draft your Will to survive common changes (such as buying a replacement vehicle). You can also identify alternative or subsequent heirs, personal representatives, and guardians who can fill in any gaps in your estate plan. That way, none of your assets will fall through the cracks.
Step 7: Sign your Will with witnesses and a notary public
In Florida, for a Will to be valid, it must be signed or acknowledged by the testator (the person who wrote the will) in front of two witnesses who sign in presence of the testator and each other. You cannot sign your Will and send it to your witnesses to sign later at their convenience. Rather, your estate planning attorney can help coordinate the execution of your Will to ensure you meet all state signing requirements. If you want your will to be self-attested, to be accepted by the Court after your death without the oath of a witness, you and the witnesses must sign before a notary who is not one of the witnesses.
Step 8: Hold a family meeting to discuss your Will
A Will is only useful if your family knows it exists after your death. It’s usually a good idea to talk to the people you’ve named as personal representatives and guardians, such as your heirs after your Will has been executed. By being clear about your intentions in advance, you will reduce the likelihood that family members will challenge the Will during the probate process. Your lawyer can help you put everything together and explain the process as well as how to make decisions.
Step 9: Keep your Will up to date
There are many reasons why you may need to change your Will or estate plan over time. You may get married, have another child, or someone you want to leave your estate to may die first. You should review your entire estate plan every time there is a major change in your life or at least every 3 to 5 years.
Writing a Will is very different from what you see on TV. This should be considered with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. At Your Family Matters, P.A., we know how to write a Will in Florida that is thoughtful and inclusive. We will be glad to meet with you to review your heirs and assets, and draft a Will or trust to protect your legacy and provide for your family for years to come. Contact us online or call (941) 275-2785 to schedule a free consultation.