What is a Will?

A Will is a legal document recognized to be binding and controlling of the decedent’s property.

Historically, a “Last Will and Testament” was the cornerstone of an estate plan, which was legally operative only upon death, and required probate by a court of the decedent’s estate.

Florida law recognizes the use of a Will, and its general requirements are that it be in writing, signed at the end by or on behalf of a competent adult, and signed in the presence of two witnesses who also sign in the presence of each other.  See Florida Statutes ss. 732.502 for a detailed description of signing requirements in Florida.

But note a Will only covers assets titled in the decedent’s name alone, which do not have effective transfer on death beneficiary designations.  This means that most life insurance death benefits, annuity contingent beneficiary payments, inherited IRA and 401k Plan accounts, as well as most husband and wife jointly titled property, pass outside of the Will and instead are governed by operation of other legal principles.

Nevertheless, most people would be well advised to have at least some form of a current, legally enforceable Will in place.

Your assets, family structure, needs, goals, budget, desire for privacy, potential for family conflict, income tax exposure, estate tax exposure, and need for asset protection all need to be weighed to determine what the best estate plan design is for you, and whether a Will should be the primary planning document controlling your estate.

Don’t be a victim of one size fits all planning.  Know your legal rights on estate planning and act accordingly!