J. Kelly Kennedy, Attorney/CPA, PLLC

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Attorney and CPA

Wills are often the first step in estate planning

In this day and age, people try plan nearly every aspect of their life, from careers to marriage to starting a family. However, often, we forget to prepare for the unexpected, including death. Florida residents should understand that careful estate planning is necessary to save their loved ones from considerable financial and legal stress after their passing, particularly if it's unexpected. However, it's never too late to plan your assets, and Florida residents can start planning now.

A will is an extremely important document to have in place to establish the foundations of an estate. One of the most important steps in creating a will is to determine and specify beneficiaries of important assets and property, including retirement accounts and valuable investments.

Furthermore, the beneficiary list is not permanent and can be changed any time in the future. This amendment provision is sensible as it allows the person to control the designation of beneficiaries as a change circumstances may dictate changes.

Additionally, IRA and 401(k) accounts have may include stipulations that are important in the estate planning process. A will is governed by state law, which can vary from location to location. However, an IRA is a federal account. So, no matter where a person lives, the surviving is usually considered the primary beneficiary unless a waiver is signed.

It is always a good idea to mention contingent beneficiaries. For example, if the listed beneficiary does not survive the person who has created the will, then confusion could result. In the case where multiple beneficiaries are specified, the person should not forget to mention how an asset or piece of property is to be divided. The shares do not need to be divided equally.

Not only does a will clear up major questions for loved ones, but it can also save money, especially in terms of probate costs.

The loss of a loved one is very sad and distressing. However, things will be even more difficult if no proper estate plan has been formulated. The people left behind may suffer a great deal from the loss and may also be worried about the future. Family disputes often develop in the absence of a clear cut estate plan. That is why advance estate planning is so important, and drafting a will is usually the first step in the process.

Source: Old Colony Memorial, "Estate planning," Paula Harris, Feb. 14, 2013.

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