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  • Writer's pictureEvan Miller

Understanding the Scope of a Will in Florida: Does It Control All Your Property?

Introduction A common question in estate planning is whether a will controls all of one’s property. In Florida, as in many other states, the answer is nuanced. While a will is a powerful legal document, certain assets and situations are governed by other mechanisms or laws, overriding the directives of a will. This blog post aims to clarify what a will can and cannot control in Florida.

What a Will Controls in Florida A will primarily dictates how your probate assets are to be distributed upon your death. Probate assets typically include:

  • Solely owned property, like real estate, cars, and personal belongings.

  • Bank accounts or investment accounts solely in your name without designated beneficiaries.

When a Will Does Not Control Property

  1. Beneficiary Designations: Assets like retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and payable-on-death bank accounts pass directly to the named beneficiaries, regardless of what is stated in a will.

  2. Jointly Owned Property: Property owned in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship or tenancy by the entirety automatically passes to the surviving owner(s), not through the will.

  3. Trust Assets: Assets held in a trust are distributed according to the terms of the trust, not the will.

The Interplay of Beneficiary Designations and State Law

  1. Beneficiary Designations Override a Will: It’s crucial to understand that beneficiary designations on financial accounts and insurance policies take precedence over any conflicting instructions in a will.

  2. Impact of State Law: In some instances, state law can override the provisions of a will. For example, in Florida, the homestead exemption laws can restrict the ability to bequeath a primary residence, particularly if the decedent is survived by a spouse or minor children.

  3. Elective Share Laws: Florida's elective share laws ensure that a surviving spouse receives a minimum portion of the estate, regardless of the will's contents.

The Importance of Coordinating Your Estate Plan

  • Consistency is Key: Ensure your beneficiary designations and the terms of your will and any trusts are aligned and reflect your current wishes.

  • Review Regularly: Life changes such as marriage, divorce, births, and deaths necessitate a review of your estate plan, including beneficiary designations and your will.

  • Professional Advice: Consider consulting with an estate planning attorney to ensure all aspects of your estate plan work together cohesively.

Conclusion In Florida, a will is a critical component of an estate plan but does not have the final say on all your assets. Understanding the assets that are controlled by your will and those governed by beneficiary designations, joint ownership, trusts, and state law is essential for effective estate planning. This knowledge ensures that your estate plan accurately reflects your intentions and provides for your loved ones as you intend.

Proper estate planning involves a holistic approach, considering all mechanisms of asset distribution to ensure your wishes are fulfilled. Regular reviews and updates, along with professional guidance, can help navigate the complex interplay between different estate planning tools and state law.

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