Who will Receive Your Assets When You are Gone?

By Barbara Coenson
Attorney at Law

Do you know who will receive your assets when you are gone? You may think you do; however, failing to create an estate plan that meets your unique goals can leave your loved ones with less than you planned.

For example, Margaret and Sam were married for 15 years and had no children. Prior to marrying Margaret, Sam was married to Jane with whom he had one child named John. Sam had not seen John in ten years. Sam wanted Margaret to receive all his assets when he died, but never documented his wishes in a will or trust. When Sam died, because Sam did not have a will or trust stating that he wanted Margaret to receive all of his assets, the laws of Florida required Sam’s assets to be distributed one-half to Margaret and one-half to John.

As everyone’s family is unique, so should be their estate planning. An estate plan for a single person, a person who has been married only once, or aperson who has children by a prior marriage may differ depending on who that person wants to receive their assets.

For example, Ellen is married to Tom. They have a deal that if Ellen leaves everything to Tom in her will if she dies first, then Tom  will leave everything to Ellen’s children when he dies. Ellen dies and Tom gets Ellen’s property. One year later, Tom meets and marries Sara. Tom changes his will to leave everything to Sara. Ellen’s children receive nothing when Tom dies. Ellen could have protected her children’s inheritance and still provide for Tom during his life if Ellen had created a trust.  

How different assets pass at your death impacts your estate plans. Some assets will pass directly to named beneficiaries, or directly to another owner of an asset jointly owned with right of survivorship. Assets in a trust will pass directly to the trust beneficiaries, while assets outside a trust may need to probated. Some assets have limitations by law as to who can take ownership upon your death.

For example, Eduardo and Sandra were married for twelve years, when one day Sandra left Eduardo and their three children. Eduardo’s sister, Sonja, moved into the home to help take care of the children. Eduardo and Sandra never divorced. Eduardo died. In his will, he left Sonja $50,000 and the right to live in the house for her lifetime. The house and the remainder of his assets, he left to his children. By Florida law, Sandra as Eduardo’s legal wife at his death, could claim a lifetime ownership of the house and 30% of Eduardo’s estate. Had Eduardo divorced Sandra, Sandra would have no claim to any of Eduardo’s estate.

If you have a large estate when you die, then your estate may be subject to federal estate tax. Unless your estate plan includes the tools to reduce or diminish your tax liability, then the U.S. government will take a portion of your estate that you had planned to give to your loved ones.

Your estate plan should be customized to meet your unique goals and ensure that your loved ones receive the inheritance you intended for them to receive. To learn more, consult with an estate planning attorney.

Lake Mary Life Sept/Oct 2008

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