What is a Will?

WHAT IS A WILL?

Last-Will-Test

A will is a written direction controlling the disposition of property at death. The laws of each state set the formal requirements for a legal will.[1]
In Florida:

  1. You, the maker of the will (called the testator), must be at least 18 years old. 2. You must be of sound mind at the time you sign your will. 3. Your will must be written. 4. Your will must be witnessed and notarized in the special manner provided by law for wills. 5. It is necessary to follow exactly the formalities required by Florida law for the execution of a will. 6. To be effective, your will must be proved in and allowed by the probate court. No will becomes final until the death of the testator, and it may be changed or added to by the testator by drawing a new will or by a “codicil,” which is simply a separately written addition or amendment executed with the same formalities of a will. A will’s terms cannot be changed by writing something in or crossing something out after the will is executed. In fact, writing on the will after its execution may invalidate part of the will or all of it.[2]

 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THERE IS NO WILL? If you die without a will (this is called dying “intestate”), your property will be distributed to your heirs according to a formula fixed by law. Your property does not go to the State of Florida unless there are absolutely no heirs at law, which is very unlikely. In other words, if you fail to make a will, the inheritance statute determines who gets your property. The inheritance statute contains a rigid formula and makes no exception for those in unusual need. When there is no will, the court appoints a personal representative, known or unknown to you, to manage your estate. The cost of probating may be greater than if you had planned your estate with a will, and the administration of your estate may be subject to greater court supervision.[3]

 

SOME SUGGESTIONS CONCERNING WILLS.

1. Marriage does not cancel a will in Florida, but a spouse acquired after the execution of a will may receive the same portion of your estate that he or she would have received had you died without a will (at least one-half).

2. If you have moved to Florida from another state, it is wise to have your will reviewed by a Florida lawyer in order to be sure that it is properly executed according to the laws of Florida, that the witnesses are readily available to prove your will in Florida, and that your personal representative is qualified to serve in Florida.[4]

3. Before your will is effective to dispose of your property, it must be proved in the probate court. If the will is self-proving and otherwise valid, it may be admitted to probate without further proof. If the will is not self-proving, it generally must be proved by the oath of one of the witnesses. The oath must be given before a circuit judge, clerk of court, or a commissioner specially appointed by the court for that purpose. (Under certain circumstances, the court may permit the will to be proved by other means permitted by law.) A will can be made self-proving either at the time of its execution or later, which saves the time and expense of locating a witness and obtaining his or her oath after your death. For your will to be made self-proving, you must acknowledge the will before an officer authorized to administer oaths; the witnesses must make affidavits before the officer; and the officer must evidence the acknowledgment and affidavits by a certificate attached to or following the will. An appropriate form of certificate is prescribed by Florida law. The self-proving procedure is in addition to the normal execution and witnessing of the will, not in place of it.

4. No matter how perfect a will may be prepared for you, unless it is properly executed in strict compliance with the laws of Florida, the will may be entirely void. Be sure that you execute your will in the presence of your attorney, who knows exactly how and in what order the will should be signed.

5. Every person owning property who wishes to exercise control in the disposition of that property when he or she dies, should have a will regardless of the value of the property. Of course, the larger the estate the greater the tax consequences.

6. The following additional documents should be considered for signing when you make your will:

  • Living Will: Florida Statutes now provide for a written declaration by an individual specifying directions as to use of life-prolonging procedures.
  • Power of Attorney: This document can assist in handling the property of a person who has become incapacitated without having to open a guardianship proceeding in court. This is especially valuable for paying the bills and protecting the assets of an incapacitated person. A power of attorney is no longer valid or enforceable after the death of the person.
  • Health Care Surrogate: Florida law now allows individuals to designate a person to make health care decisions for them when the individual may not be able to do so. Included in this important appointment is the power to decide when to withdraw medical procedures.
  • Pre-Need Guardian Designation: Florida law allows you to designate a person who could be appointed guardian over you should you become incapacitated and/or over your children should you become incapacitated or upon your death. If you fail to designate a guardian, the Court will do so for you if and when it becomes necessary.

For your estate planning in Lee, Hendry, and Collier Counties call a Mary A. Cosmo, Esquire at 239-208-2203.

 

[1] Florida Bar Consumer Pamphlet, What is a will? http://www.floridabar.org/tfb/TFBConsum.nsf/48e76203493b82ad852567090070c9b9/a0091ab18d4875d085256b2f006c5b75?OpenDocument

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

%d bloggers like this: