Tips for Settling Your Florida Estate Out of Court

Court processes can not only be tricky but also drag on for weeks or even years. 

They can take a huge toll, financially and emotionally, on all parties involved. This gets specifically messy when it comes to probating an estate after a family member’s death. Children, heirs, and beneficiaries can end up fighting over your assets while grieving at the same time.

It is for these reasons that you might want to limit disputes before they become burdensome. On that note, here are a couple of tips for settling your estate outside of court in Florida:

Gift your Florida Assets Before You Die

Why wait until death for your heirs to get the property you intend for them?

Waiting can complicate things because it then becomes vague what assets you intended for whom. Even if you have a will, specific wording and intention can be hard to discern without you being present.

Thus, you can give away some of your Florida estate right now. If these assets aren’t under your name when you die – hence not subject to probate – they’ll surely end up in the right hands.

However, gifts also beg the question of gift tax, but luckily the state of Florida abolished such fees about 15 years ago.

Before that sigh of relief, though, please note that while Florida has no such requirements, the federal government does (when the gift exceeds $15,000 in value).

Consequently, that might be factored into, or rather out of, your estate exemption so that your estate doesn’t have to pay a dime when assets are divided after your death. Aside from jumping the hurdle of ancillary probate, gifts can lower your estate value so that you are comfortably below the federal estate tax exemption, which stands at about $11.4 million in 2019.

The state of Florida doesn’t levy an estate tax. In other words, if you gift everything over say $11 million before your death, and probate everything after that, your heirs will have a much easier time absorbing your estate.

Take advantage of the tenancy and joint ownership exemptions.

For real estate or bank accounts, joint ownership can ensure the property or asset doesn’t catch the attention of the Florida probate courts. In other words, making your son or daughter the co-owner of a property, for example, can simplify things. A joint tenancy with rights of survivorship can ease the probate process.

However, that will automatically be the case if the arrangement is not a tenants-in-common affair, i.e., when a tenant in common dies, the property passes to that tenant’s estate.

Channel the power of revocable living trusts.

A living trust refers to the process that happens after you die or if you lose the mental capacity to make sound decisions. It ensures the utmost privacy for your estate plans by keeping them outside of court records.

However, a living trust alone may not be sufficient to avoid probate court in Florida. It’s also needed to “fund the trust” by seeing to it that the title is in line with a favorable trust name.

You can do this by changing beneficiaries, ownership right assignment, or by altering the title itself. It’s prudent to consult a good Florida estate planning attorney to assist you in creating a living trust. This ensures that it legally achieves your objectives after you’re no longer able to make decisions on the matter.

Implore Pay-on-Death accounts and Transfer-on-Death registrations.

While still retaining full control over your original bank account, a POD account ensures the direct transference of money on death. This is without court intervention. Further, when you’re still alive, the beneficiary has zero rights to the account. After your death, they will inherit the money directly. 

For stocks and bonds, the state allows TOD registration, which is a lot similar to the POD option above.

Additionally, some states accept Transfer-on-Death Deeds, but Florida does not. However, you should have a Florida lawyer look into the possibility of the Lady Bird Deed, which isn’t too dissimilar from the latter.

The bottom line.

It’s not hard to circumvent probate and save your heirs the trouble of judicial processes after your death.

This is because a close death can bring out the worst in people, and it’s hard to predict how your heirs and beneficiaries will handle it. Especially if you’re the matriarch or patriarch of the family.

Court/attorney fees, in some cases, can take a sizeable chunk in the region of 5% of the probate inheritance.

However, in the end, it’s worthwhile because your heir’s best interests will be protected from scheming, greedy, or manipulative counter-beneficiaries. Sometimes heirs will have a symbolic attachment to inheritance, and in some cases, things turn violent.

With these simple methods described above, you can transfer property before your death. This minimizes Uncle Sam’s role in the matter.

This won’t completely eliminate the legal process, but it can lessen the length of it. It can also minimize the resulting court fees. A Florida estate planning lawyer can help you figure out the best path to take for your unique situation.