Who needs a Florida Will?

Bob contacted me to help settle his father’s estate. Bob and his wife are happily retired in Sarasota. They moved Bob’s father “Dad” to a facility in Sarasota. Dad was alone since “Mom” died. Dad was failing slowly - both mentally and physically. Bob used his Power of Attorney document to handle Dad’s bank account and investment account. There was still enough money to pay the monthly bills from Dad’s accounts.

When Dad died recently, his Will left the remainder of his estate to his wife who already passed away. The Will said the estate should be divided by the children (now the “children” are retired) if his wife was not surviving. It sounds simple, doesn’t it?

But is is not. Dad has a Last Will & Testament from another state. The Will was signed in 1980. It looks legal in its blue cover. However, it was not signed or self-proven in the way that Florida law requires.

Dad was not active when he moved to Sarasota from another state, so he didn’t register to vote. Dad didn’t own a vehicle, so he didn’t need a Florida driver’s license or vehicle tags. And he didn’t buy a home. Any of those acts might have reminded him to get a Florida Will. His out of state Will may or may not be valid. We won’t know until we find the witnesses who scrawled their signatures on the Will in 1980. Fortunately, one witness has a legible signature, printed her address, hasn’t moved, and has a listed telephone number. She is helping us find the other witnesses. When we locate the other witnesses, we will prepare a Petition to ask our local Probate Judge to issue a judicial order to appoint a commissioner to take the oath of the witnesses who will swear that they were the witnesses when Dad signed his Will in 1980.

It seems simple to write a Will but it is not so simple to settle the estate if the Will is not written properly according to the state of residence. It is important to recognize that state laws differ for Wills, Power of Attorney, Living Wills, and for estate administration procedures.

Proper estate planning can solve a lot of problems, delays, and costs of passing the estate to the next generation. For Florida residents, estate planning includes a Last Will & Testament, perhaps a Living Trust, and other documents that are valid under the laws of Florida.

Probate of a Last Will & Testament is the legal process to settle an estate according to the wishes written in the Will. Probate is required in the state of residence as well as any other state where real estate is owned.

Before an probate estate is settled, a Florida lawyer must represent the estate executor, referred to as the personal representative, during the period of six months to a year, or longer, in order to follow the procedures required by Florida probate law. In Florida, probate estates of $5,000 or more require Summary Probate procedures. Estates of $75,000 or more (amount increased in 2002) require Formal Probate Administration.

Many Florida residents have a Revocable Living Trust to avoid probate court! Revocable Living Trusts can be important tools for avoiding probate and improving estate management. Not everyone needs or wants a Living Trust, but every Florida resident, with a small or large estate should have a Last Will & Testament, and possibly a Revocable Living Trust, that is valid according to Florida Law.

If you would like to learn more about Living Trusts and a Florida Will click on the "Seminar Dates" button here or at the top of the page for the date of the next Estate Planning Seminar. You may ask questions of a general nature at these free seminars. Since seating is limited to 10 persons reservations are required. If you seek legal advice specific to your particular circumstances and would like to become a client, call the office at 377-5660 to schedule a private appointment in our office with Attorney Laura Hillier. Click here or the "Directions" button above for directions specific to your geographic area.