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An estate plan for every situation

By HELEN HUNTLEY
Published February 15, 2004

What kind of estate plan do you need?

Just about everyone needs at least a will and a power of attorney, but your particular circumstances will make some aspects of estate planning more important than others. Consider these points, then talk to a lawyer experienced in estate planning about what would be best in your situation.

Married

If you want your spouse to get everything, you may be able to accomplish that primarily through beneficiary designations and holding most assets jointly. However, you still need a will to convey other assets, including personal property. Without a will, any children you have may be entitled to a share of those assets.

If you have significant assets, simply leaving everything to your spouse may not be a good idea. You can use a trust to minimize estate taxes or to protect your children's interests. Trusts are a particularly good idea for people who have children from prior marriages. Without one, if you die first, your spouse's children could end up with your assets and your own children might be left out. If you have a trust based on estate tax rules, it should be reviewed periodically to be sure changes have not left your plan out of kilter.

You cannot disinherit a spouse. In Florida, a spouse has the right to an "elective share" of 30 percent of the estate, broadly defined.

If you are survived by a spouse or minor child, Florida law says homestead property cannot be left to anyone else. It goes to your spouse if you own the property jointly. You also can will it to your spouse if you own it individually and there are no minor children. Without a will, it goes to your children if you have any, with a "life estate" guaranteeing your spouse the lifetime right to live in the home.

Depending on your family's circumstances, you may need insurance.

Married or Single, With Children

If you have minor children, nominate someone you want to serve as guardian along with one or two backups. However, the court is not likely to honor your wishes if the child's other parent is still living.

Children cannot legally manage their own financial assets. A simple way to handle this is for your will to leave assets to an adult as custodian for a child under the Florida Uniform Transfer to Minors Act to age 21. Another alternative is to create a trust, either during your lifetime or through your will, to hold and manage the assets. The trust could continue after the children became adults, perhaps providing for distributions of principal at various ages.

You need life insurance if your children are still dependent on you for support. Term insurance provides the most coverage for your dollar.

You are not obligated to leave your adult children anything, but if your will was written before children were born, the law assumes you did not intend to leave them out. Do not leave Johnny a token sum; that creates problems in administering your estate.

Single and childless

You probably do not need to buy life insurance, but be sure to name a beneficiary for any insurance policy you get through your job as well as for retirement accounts. If you die without a will, your assets will go to your parents. If neither of them is still alive, your siblings will get what is left. You need a will or trust if you want your assets to go to someone else or to charity. The more assets you have, the more it makes sense to set up a revocable trust to provide for management of your assets should you become disabled.

Unmarried partners

You need to plan or your partner will get nothing. You can leave assets to your partner through a will or trust and through beneficiary designations on an insurance policy and retirement accounts. If you buy a house, consider joint ownership with right of survivorship. You also need to legally appoint your partner to make health care decisions for you if that is your wish.

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]

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