Estate Planning Attorneys In Longwood, FL

Estate planning is more than drafting wills, trust, and the handling of estates. Here at Vazquez & Stockmar, PLLC, our estate planning attorneys provide counsel to you and your family and present practical plans for the preservation and distribution of your assets to your beneficiaries. Our attorneys in Longwood have extensive experience with complex tax and probate laws and take pride in our ability to create practical and understandable solutions tailored to your needs. We are sensitive to the unique needs of seniors and those who are unable to handle their affairs due to issues such as incapacity.

At Vazquez & Stockmar, PLLC, you’re guaranteed zealous representation and valuable legal guidance through every step of the estate planning process. Our experienced legal team is committed to helping our clients navigate their unique circumstances as smoothly as possible. Contact us today to request a free consultation with an experienced estate planning lawyer!

The Estate Planning Process

Estate planning is a very personal process and an important component to planning for the future for you as well as your family. Our lawyers in Longwood, Florida, recognize the emotional aspects of estate planning, and we are confident our methods and explanations will create a prosperous estate planning experience.

Estate planning starts with an initial consultation to discuss your objectives and a confidential analysis of present and future assets, liabilities, incomes, and expenses. During this initial meeting, thorough consideration is given to familial factors along with tax and probate ramifications, including an estimation of federal estate taxes, state estate and inheritance taxes, gift taxes, and income tax consequences.

After our analysis and discussion, we present a proposed estate plan appropriate for you and your family, which would include drafts of various estate planning documents. These documents typically include a Last Will & Testament, Trust, Durable Financial Power of Attorney, designation of Health Care Surrogate, and Living Will, and more! For instance, you may need an irrevocable life insurance trust or special needs trust based on your unique assets. At Vazquez & Stockmar, PLLC, we strive to help you achieve your estate planning objectives while minimizing taxes and other administrative expenses occurring during probate.

Understandable Estate Planning Documents

At Vazquez & Stockmar, PLLC, we draft our wills, trust agreements, durable powers of attorney, designation of health care surrogate, and other estate planning documents so they are understandable to you and effective in implementing the personal planning and tax strategies in your estate plan.

Estate Planning is an important component of your and your loved one’s future. Whether you are leaving behind a larger estate with many assets or a smaller estate with fewer assets, take the time to educate yourself on the various estate planning documents.

Last Will & Testament

A last will and testament is a formal document that provides specific instructions regarding your estate and the disposition of your assets at the time of your death. We encourage clients to seek legal counsel when preparing a last will and testament to avoid pitfalls or issues and to create a legal document that caters to their individual or familial situation. Fl. Stat. § 732.502 lists Florida’s formal requirements for the execution of a will which are listed below.

  1. A person’s will must be in writing.
  2. The maker of the will, also referred to as the “testator,” must sign at the end of the will. If the maker cannot physically sign the will, he or she may direct another person to subscribe to the maker’s name at the end of the will, as long as it is done in the presence of the maker and by the testator’s direction.
  3. A person’s will must be witnessed by at least two attesting witnesses. The attesting witnesses must sign the will in the presence of the testator and in the presence of each other.
  4. Do you have a will that was prepared in another state? If you have a will from another state, it is important to highlight any will executed by a nonresident at the time, is a valid will in Florida, if it is found valid under the laws of the state where the will was originally signed. It is important to note that holographic and oral wills are not valid under Florida law.

Another benefit to creating a will is having the ability to name who you would like to serve as executor of your will, who is also called the “personal representative” for your estate. Your personal representative plays a significant role in overseeing the distribution of your estate’s assets, so it is important to choose this individual wisely. When there is no will and no personal representative identified to oversee your estate, the court will appoint the personal representative on your estate’s behalf.

Finally, no will is effective until the death of the will’s maker! Thus, you can always change or add to your will by creating a new one and destroying your old will or adding a codicil to your will. Pursuant to Florida law, a codicil to a will should be signed with the same formalities as a will.

Designation Of A Health Care Surrogate

The future can be uncertain at times, especially when it comes to health. We encourage our client to designate a health care surrogate, to act on your behalf to make health care decisions on your behalf, or receive health information on your behalf should you become incapacitated.

Florida has set formal requirements for the execution of a written document designating your health care surrogate, which are listed in Fl. Stat. § 765.202. These formal requirements are as follows:

  1. The designation of a health care surrogate must be in writing.
  2. The designation of a health care surrogate must be signed by the maker, also known as the “principal,” in the presence of two subscribing witnesses.
  3. If the maker of the health care document is unable to sign the instrument, the maker may direct that another person sign the maker’s name in the presence of the two witnesses.

It’s important to remember the execution of a health care surrogate under Florida law. Firstly, the health care surrogate is not permitted to sign as a witness to the document. In addition, the witnesses of the health care surrogate should not be a spouse or a relative of the document’s maker. Finally, a document designating a health care surrogate may also designate an alternative surrogate. It’s important to remember the alternate surrogate may assume their duties if the original surrogate is not willing, able, or reasonably available.

Power Of Attorney

Often times a client will seek a power of attorney, allowing another person to act on their behalf. The requirements and authorities granted under a power of attorney are found in the Florida Power of Attorney Act.

A power of attorney is a written legal document that grants authority from the maker of the document to another person referred to as the “agent.” The agent is granted authority to act on behalf of the principal. For instance, an individual may allow an agent to act on his or her behalf while making baking transactions.

Authorities granted under the power of authority to an agent depend on the specific powers included in the document, which can vary from a broad array of powers to specific powers that only allow an agent to act in particular matters. The context of a power of attorney may vary based on the desires of the principal. Here at Vazquez & Stockmar, PLLC, we strive to draft a power of attorney that meets the needs of your unique situation.

There is a variety of power of attorneys that may be drafted on your behalf, including a general power of attorney, a limited power of attorney, and a durable power of attorney. A general power of attorney properly executed by a principal gives their agent broad powers to perform any legal act on behalf of the principal. Pursuant to FL. Stat. § 709.2201, “an agent may only exercise authority specifically granted to the agent in the power of attorney and any authority reasonably necessary to give effect to that express grant of specific authority.” A limited power of attorney properly gives the agent authority to conduct specific acts. For instance, a client may need a limited power of attorney for their agent to act on the sale of real property. Thus, the client’s limited power of attorney would be limited to the agent’s authority to sell the real property on the principal’s behalf.

A general power of attorney standardly terminates when the principal becomes incapacitated, whether as a result of sickness or death. Oftentimes, our clients will request a durable power of attorney to avoid any mishaps should this issue occur. A durable power of attorney remains effective even if the principal of the document becomes incapacitated, but specific language must be included in the document for the agent’s powers to survive any incapacity of the principal.

At Vazquez & Stockmar, PLLC, we are here to ensure you have the appropriate documentation to meet your power of attorney needs.

Revocable Trusts

In addition to estate planning documents, a client may also choose a revocable trust to be created for their estate. Similar to a last will and testament, a revocable trust manages assets and distributes them at the time of your death. With respect to revocable trusts, a settlor may choose to modify or terminate the trust during their lifetime. There are various parties involved in the creation of a trust, including the creator of the trust, known as the “settlor” or “grantor”, the individual managing the trust, known as a “trustee,” and the individuals benefitting from the distribution of the trust’s assets, known as the “beneficiaries.”

The trustee may be an individual, a bank, or even a trust company. The powers granted within a revocable trust allow a trustee to manage the trust’s assets. The trustee is ultimately responsible for the distribution of the trust’s assets to the beneficiaries. It is important to note that the individual chosen to act as trustee should be able to be objective and able to deal with the trust’s beneficiaries in an impartial matter. The individual chosen as a trustee plays a pivotal role in the distribution of a trust’s assets and should be chosen wisely.

An individual may also desire to have a revocable trust for their estate to avoid probate as the trust’s assets are transferred to the trustee during the settlor’s lifetime. As a result, a person is able to avoid the probate process to make the transfer of assets after their death as the trustee has authority over the trust’s assets.

Medicare Trusts

To help protect your future assets, it may be worth creating an “irrevocable trust” for Medicaid purposes. While this type of trust is an option, it isn’t for everyone! Contact Vazquez & Stockmar, PLLC today to determine if this trust is necessary, depending on the size and assets of your estate.

In Florida, an individual applying for Medicaid must meet specific income levels. In preparing your estate plan, you should not give away assets prior to applying for Medicaid, as this may make you ineligible for benefits. It is important to highlight to qualify for Medicaid in the state of Florida, the applicant must not have given or transferred assets out of their estate within five years of applying for Medicaid benefits.

An “Irrevocable Living Trust” is generally established at least five years before an individual applies for Medicaid and requires long-term care. This is known as Medicaid’s “look-back period.” Individuals often put their assets into an irrevocable trust to protect their assets from Medicaid should they seek monies from their estate after the person’s untimely death.

Will Substitutes

Often times we are asked as counsel, whether there is a way for our clients to avoid probate with respect to their property. This will frequently depend on how your asset is titled or held during your lifetime.

  • Tenants By The Entirety. You may have seen this legal term in the past or even on your own property’s deed and were unsure as to its legal implications. Real property, such as a marital home, held as tenants by the entirety, often refers to property held by a married couple. This type of ownership of probate can avoid probate, as it implies that at the time of one spouse’s death, his or her interest with automatically pass to the surviving spouse.
  • Joint Tenant With Rights Of Survivorship. You may have seen this legal term in the past or even on your own property’s deed and were unsure as to its legal implications. Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship is established when one or more parties purchase assets together with the intent of their ownership rights to automatically pass to their joint owner. For example, let’s say Susan and Frank decided to purchase property together, and the deed of said property states that they own the property together as “Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship.” Should Susan pass, her ownership rights would automatically pass to the surviving owner, which in this case would be Frank.
  • Lady Bird Deeds. The “Lady Bird deed” is known as an Enhanced Life Estate Deed for legal purposes. Instead of the property’s owner automatically transferring their interest in a property with the signing of a quitclaim deed or General Warranty Deed, an individual may transfer his or her interest under an Enhanced Life Estate Deed. Such a deed allows the owner of the property to have a life tenancy in the property and provides a remainderman interest in any person(s) listed in the deed after the owner passes away. With a life tenancy, the owner of the property retains the right to sell, lease, mortgage, or transfer his or her ownership interest in the real property without the consent of the remainderman. Ultimately, the Lady Bird Deed allows the property to transfer outside of a probate proceeding to the remainderman after the property owner passes away.
  • Transfer On Death Or Payable On Death Accounts. If a person does not have a listed beneficiary on their bank or investment account at the time of his or her death, this asset will be listed as an estate asset for probate purposes. A financial account, such as a bank account or investment account, owned by an individual who has passed and is identified as payable on death or transferrable on death to another person upon the owner’s death, is not considered as part of the estate for probate purposes.

How We Can Help

If you or a family member have any questions regarding estate planning and are seeking more in-depth information, contact the estate planning lawyers at Vazquez & Stockmar, PLLC. Estate planning is unique to each family dynamic and our attorneys always keep in mind that well prepared estate documents may alleviate unnecessary probate litigation in the future.  We serve clients in Seminole, Orange, and Volusia counties, including but not limited to residents of Longwood, Lake Mary, Sanford, Altamonte Springs, Apopka, Orlando, DeLand, Daytona Beach, and surrounding areas.