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REVOCABLE LIVING TRUSTS IN FLORIDA The Average Person Creating an Estate Plan Usually Has Little to No Understanding of What Trusts Are, Much Less What a Revocable Living Trust Is

ROBERT J. KULAS

FLORIDA ESTATE AND MEDICAID PLANNING ATTORNEY


Almost everyone creating an estate plan today will benefit by making a revocable living trust. Unfortunately, the average person creating a plan usually has little to no understanding of what trusts are, much less what a revocable living trust is. Beginning the estate planning process with as much information as possible is always a good idea. If you take the time to learn some basic concepts, you’ll be able to not only

To get an idea of what a revocable living trust is, it might be useful to think of an imaginary friend, such as one you might have had in your childhood. Revocable living trusts are, in many ways, like imaginary friends.

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lawyer, but you won’t feel lost or overwhelmed by the process. To help you establish a base of knowledge, here are some key points you should know about revocable living trusts.

YOUR FICTIONAL FRIEND To get an idea of what a revocable living trust is, it might be useful to think of an imaginary friend, such as one you might have had in your childhood. Revocable living trusts are, in many ways, like imaginary friends. Trusts have no physical presence. You can’t touch them, can’t talk to them, and they don’t exist outside of a piece of paper. Nevertheless, revocable living trusts have legal value. The law recognizes these tools and allows them the ability to own property. Because of this, revocable living trusts play a key role in estate planning. When you create a revocable living trust, you’ll use it as a sort of holding company for your individually owned property. Though you will still be able to use, maintain, and benefit from the

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property transferred into the trust, doing so will give your estate plan significant benefits.

TRUSTS AND PROBATE The reason revocable living trusts are so important to estate planning is because they allow your state to avoid one of the main problems it faces. That problem is probate. Probate is a legal process in which the property you leave behind after you die will be inventoried, accounted for, and distributed to your legal heirs. Like many other legal processes, probate takes a long time. It is also highly regulated. There are many specific laws and rules that apply throughout this process in order to make it uniform and fair. What that means for the average person is that if you leave behind property that has to go through this probate process, your family will not be able to become the new legal owner of that property until probate is finished. This can take months, and in some cases, even years. Throughout that time, your estate will have to foot the bill when it comes to fees and costs associated with this process.

PROBATE AND YOUR LIVING TRUST At this point you might be wondering how a living trust helps your estate avoid probate. It’s really rather simple. Remember that imaginary friend? Well, because your

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imaginary friend has been given legal substance, that friend can continue to exist after you die. If you transfer all your property into your friend’s name, that friend will still be the legal owner after you’re gone. Because your imaginary friend owns the property and not you, there is no reason for probate court to get involved. So, by creating your revocable living trust and transferring your property to it, you get to avoid probate. Further, because you are the one who creates the revocable living trust, you also get to determine the rules under which the trust will operate. This includes the ability to determine how the trust will transfer property to your heirs after you die. Though this is, in effect, the same way you would transfer property to your heirs if you had written a last will and testament, because you are doing it through a revocable living trust you don’t have to go through probate to do so.

CREATING THE TRUST So, now that you know how living trust let your estate avoid probate, you’ll need to get down to the actual work of creating one. This process isn’t too difficult, though there are some specific laws that apply. Your estate planning attorney will guide you through the process to ensure that you comply with these laws, but in essence all you will be doing is creating a document that states some particular details. First, your document will have to identify who will serve as the trust beneficiary. The beneficiary is the person who

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gets to use the property the trust owns. The great thing about a revocable living trust is that you can name yourself as the beneficiary. You can also identify who will become the beneficiaries once you die. These beneficiaries will effectively inherit the property you leave behind. Second, you’ll have to identify a trustee. A trustee has the duty to manage the property the trust owns. Trustees can be almost anyone you choose. However, because the property the trust will own is the property you already own, most people creating a revocable living trust choose to serve as the trustee themselves. So, when you create a living trust you choose yourself as both the beneficiary and the trustee. At no time during the trust creation process will you lose control over your property or have to choose someone else who will step in to manage it for you. Finally, you’ll have to complete the funding process once you’ve written the trust instrument. Funding is simply taking your property and transferring it into the trust’s name. This can be simple or complicated depending on the type of property you wish to transfer. Further, you have to be very careful when you go through the funding process. If you make a mistake or leave something out, your trust won’t be the legal owner. Any property you fail to fund properly will have to go through the probate process.

In our next discussion on living trusts, we will go into more detail about the process, how the trusts work, and what you can do to make sure your trust works properly. In the meantime, if you have any questions about these tools, talk to your estate planning attorney.

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About the Author Robert J. Kulas Robert is the founder and principal shareholder in the Port St. Lucie and Vero Beach law offices of Robert J. Kulas, P.A. Because he believes that helping his clients manage their personal affairs wisely is one of the most worthwhile professional activities he can pursue, he has devoted his practice exclusively to estate planning. Robert has invested considerable time and energy helping to educate others in estate planning and is widely regarded as a dynamic speaker who can make even the most complex estate planning issues easy to grasp. He provides free monthly seminars to inform the public on the importance of proper estate planning. For over twenty years, thousands of people have come to hear him speak. “Helping people understand their options for estate planning is very important to me,” Robert said. “I like to think that people in our community can look to me for the kind of quality information they need to decide what is best for them and their families.”

About Robert J. Kulas, P.A. Attorneys at Law Robert J. Kulas, P.A. Attorneys at Law is a full service estate planning and wealth preservation law firm servicing Port St. Lucie and Vero Beach, Florida. The firm is dedicated to providing you with quality estate planning resources, so you can become familiar with all of the existing options. When you visit or call the office, we want you to feel comfortable discussing such an important issue concerning both you and your family. We want to arm you with the information you need to make an informed decision about your family's future.

www.kulaslaw.com East Lake Professional Center 2100 SE Hillmoor Drive, Suite 105 Port St. Lucie, FL 34952 Phone: (772) 398-0720

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Univest Building 2770 Indian River Blvd., Suite 321 Vero Beach, FL 32960 Phone: (772) 778-8481

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Revocable Living Trusts in Florida