Halloween is the season of pumpkins, ghosts, goblins, and more. You might like your Halloween frights tame and filled with corn mazes and G-rated movies, or you might be a hard-core horror movie and haunted house fan. Either way, there’s no denying that Halloween is one of the best holidays around.
However, it isn’t the scariest thing in the world. Halloween comes once a year, but the frights and scariness that come with not having an estate plan is year-round. Listed below are the basic things to know about estate plans, wills, and (eek!) probate court.
Requirements of a Last Will and Testament
The last will and testament is a legally-enforceable document that you create. It outlines your wishes for what you want to happen to your assets (property, personal possessions, money, etc.) after you die. In Florida, there are several requirements for a last will and testament. And, within some of those requirements, there are exceptions.
First, the testator (person who is making the will) must be eighteen or older and of “sound mind.” Sound mind isn’t overly complicated. It just means that you need “testamentary capacity.” You need to mentally understand the extent and nature of the property your will dispose of posthumously, and you need to understand your relation to those who will claim a benefit from your will. Essentially, you must know you’re writing a will, and you need to be cognizant of the property in your will and the people to whom you’re transferring the property.
Second, the will must be in the correct form of writing, i.e. non-holographic. It cannot be “holographic” (AKA “olographic”). A holographic will is a will that has been completely handwritten and signed by the writer/testator. It is an alternative to a lawyer-written will. Some states might allow holographic wills, but Florida does not.
Third, the testator must sign the will. If the testator is unable to sign it (quadriplegic paralysis is a common example of why a testator might be unable to sign his will), the testator may direct another person to sign it on his behalf. That person must sign the will at the direction of the testator and in the presence of the testator.
Fourth, the will must be signed at the bottom. The signature doesn’t have to be formal—it can even be a symbol or letter; so long as the testator uses that symbol as his signature, it is acceptable.
Fifth, two competent witnesses must be present at the signing. The witnesses must sign the will in the presence of the testator and one other person.
What is Probate Court?
Probate court is the court where last wills and testaments go to be authenticated (validated as real) and then executed. It is also where people who die intestate go. If someone dies intestate, that means that they die without a will.
In the case of intestacy, the probate court itself will divvy up the deceased’s property. Creditors will be the first recipients, followed by anyone else with a legal claim. Probate court is time-consuming, expensive, and, in the case of intestacy, it doesn’t always reflect what the deceased would have wanted.
How to Avoid Probate Court
Even if you don’t die intestate, you will likely have to go through probate court unless your estate is extremely small. A trust is another way to transfer assets without going through probate court. A trust goes into effect when you’re alive, not when you’re dead. You transfer legal title to an asset to a trustee, who holds it until you want the beneficiary to receive it. A trust can be created in a last will and testament.
The bottom line (and the most takeaway from this article) is that you must have a plan for your asset distribution after you die. Going to probate court for will authentication is far different than going there for intestacy. You don’t need to wait until your old or sick to make an estate plan. In fact, the best time to do it is when you are in good health and clear-headed.
Though not having an estate plan might not have the same fright-factor as Michael Myers chasing people with a knife, it’s still scary. Make sure you talk to an attorney to find out how you can protect yourself and your family from the real-life horror movie that is dying intestate. Learn more about probate.