Estate planning is the process of arranging one's affairs to provide for continued management in the event of incapacity, and for the efficient distribution of assets at death with minimal taxes and costs. Estate planning can encompass probate avoidance, asset protection planning, tax planning and planning for incapacity, among other things. Each client's situation is different and our attorneys customize each plan based on the particular client's situation and desires. Perhaps the greatest benefit to our clients is the peace of mind that comes from going through the estate planning process with our experienced attorneys.
Revocable Living Trusts
A Trust is one of the most effective tools in modern estate planning. A trust can be used to accomplish many different purposes: as a vehicle to pass on assets after death, as a means of restricting funds gifted to minors, as an asset protection device, and as a part of an estate tax savings plan. The cornerstone of an effective estate plan is a Revocable Living Trust. A Revocable Living Trust can be used to hold one's assets during life, thereby bypassing court-supervised and costly probate administration upon death. For this reason, Revocable Trusts are sometimes referred to as “will substitutes,” because they can accomplish the same thing as a Will, but with much less expense and delay, and without the publicity that comes with formal probate administration.
Planning for Incapacity
As we age, our health often fails us, leaving us incapable of handling our day to day affairs. One aspect of estate planning is providing legal direction in the event of incapacity. Under Florida law, when an individual becomes incompetent to manage their own finances or make medical decisions, it is sometimes necessary to have the person declared legally incapacitated and to have a court-appointed guardian make all subsequent decisions. Through proper planning, one may designate another person to make their financial and healthcare decisions without court involvement. Ongoing management of assets can be accomplished through a properly worded durable power of attorney document. Although out-of-state powers of attorney may be accepted in Florida, there is a preference for Florida-specific powers of attorney. A Health Care Surrogate Designation is used to appoint an advocate for medical decisions. Sometimes it is necessary to enlist the aid of the courts to have a person declared legally incapacitated. Our attorneys are experienced in incapacity proceedings and guardian representation.
Asset Protection Planning
By its nature, estate planning involves a consideration of the protection of a client's assets, from the client's own creditors and from the potential creditors of beneficiaries after the client's death.
Protection of one's own assets encompasses a review of the client's ownership interests, advice on the level of protection of such interests, and a discussion of available techniques to secure such interests from the reach of creditors. Our attorneys are knowledgeable in the specific techniques to shield assets from potential creditors.
Some of our clients are concerned with protecting assets in the hands of their beneficiaries, such as in the event of divorce. Our attorneys are adept at structuring testamentary trusts – trusts that come into effect upon one's death – to protect and provided management for inheritances for beneficiaries.
Elderly clients and their families are concerned with the rising costs of long-term health care. The Medicaid program can help defray the exorbitant costs of a nursing home for disabled and elderly persons of limited means. Just as one may plan to minimize taxes, planning is also available to preserve one's assets and permit qualification for Medicaid benefits. Proactive planning must be accomplished well before the need for skilled nursing care arises. Our attorneys are experienced in counseling families to legally protect their hard-earned savings while providing for the care of infirmed loved ones.
Estate Tax Planning
An important aspect of estate planning involves planning to avoid or minimize estate taxes – taxes on the transfer of assets at death. Because Florida has no state-level estate or income tax, we work with other attorneys and clients to effectively change their domicile to Florida to enjoy all of those tax savings. Although Florida no longer has an estate tax at the state level, the imposition of the federal estate tax can, in some cases, lead to significant reduction in the actual amount that your beneficiaries receive. Planning to minimize estate taxes generally involves the leveraging of various gifting techniques. The specific techniques best suited for each client depends on numerous factors. Our attorneys work with our clients to estimate potential estate taxes and to determine the appropriate methods of reducing or eliminating such taxes.
Estate and Trust Administration
Estate and Trust Administration involves representing personal representatives and trustees in the administration of estates and trusts, often of a deceased individual. Sometimes this process involves legal proceedings (such as with probate administration) and other times the administration may be handled privately (as with revocable trusts). Our attorneys are experienced in counseling fiduciaries in all aspects of the administration of the estates and trusts of decedents. The administration process may involve identifying and paying a decedent's final debts, managing or selling a decedent's assets such as real property or a business, and finally, distributing those assets to the persons entitled to them. We provide personal attention to our fiduciary clients to make sure they properly manage and distribute trust or estate assets while minimizing their own personal liability.
Equestrian Legacy Planning
A primary concern for a horse owner is to ensure that funds are available to maintain the horse after the owner's death. Florida is one of a number of states which adopted laws permitting a horse (and other animals) to be the object of a trust fund. So now one may set aside funds in a “pet trust” or “horse trust,” for the continued care and maintenance of a horse after the owner's death. A horse trust can be established and funded during the owner's lifetime or upon the owner's death. A horse trust may be utilized to retire an older horse or to allow a horse in its prime to continue in competition. The horse trust terminates upon the animal's death, and the balance can be paid over as the owner directs in the trust document.
Estate Planning Attorneys at Gonzalez, Shenkman & Buckstein
Contact the attorneys at Gonzalez, Shenkman & Buckstein for counseling and representation in all aspects of estate planning and administration at (561) 227-1575 or online.