What is a Last Will and Testament?

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Martella Law Firm

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Jun 20, 2024

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Florida - Sarasota, Bradenton & Charlotte Counties

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A Last Will & Testament, commonly referred to as a Will, is a legal document that expresses a person's wishes regarding the distribution of their assets and the management of their affairs after their death. It serves as a written record of how an individual wants their property and belongings to be handled, including who should inherit their assets, who should be appointed as guardians for minor children, and any other specific instructions they may have regarding their final wishes when they are gone. 

Many people confuse a Will with a “Living Will” which is a much different document that takes effect while you are alive!  Here in Florida, it generally covers three conditions and states that if you have: a terminal condition; end stage condition; or if you are in a persistent vegetative state, where in the opinion of two doctors, there is not reasonable medical hope of recovery, that you do not want to be kept alive by machines.  Again, a very different purpose than your Last Will & Testament.

The main purposes of a Last Will & Testament are:

Asset Distribution: A Will allows individuals to specify how their property, such as real estate, investments, bank accounts, personal belongings, and other assets, should be distributed among their beneficiaries or heirs. Without a Will, the distribution of assets typically follows the laws of intestacy, which may not align with the deceased person's preferences.

Guardianship designation: If the deceased person has minor children, a Will can designate a guardian who will be responsible for their care and upbringing. This allows parents to have a say in who will be responsible for their children's well-being if they pass away and not leave it solely up to a judge with no input from them.

Personal Representative Appointment: A Will typically appoints what is referred to in Florida as a personal Representative.  Other states call the persona and Executor.  This person is responsible for ensuring that the deceased person's wishes, as outlined in the Will, are carried out. The Personal Representative manages the administrative tasks, such as paying outstanding debts, filing tax returns, and distributing assets according to the instructions provided in the Will.

Avoiding potential conflicts: This is a big issue, especially in situations where there is a second or third marriage involved and there are children from a prior relationship.  A well-drafted Will can help minimize conflicts among family members or other potential beneficiaries, as it provides clear instructions on asset distribution and removes ambiguity. To be legally valid in Florida, a Will requires certain formalities, such as being in writing, signed by the testator (the person making the Will) and witnessed by two witnesses.  Also it is best to have the testator’s signature and the witnesses signatures acknowledged by a Notary Public.  This makes the Will a “self-proving” Will which avoids the necessity of having to find the witnesses when the testator passes.

Will Contests

Contesting a Last Will & Testament means challenging its validity or certain provisions within it. There are a number of grounds on which a Will can be contested in Florida. Some of the typical reasons for contesting a Will include: 

Lack of testamentary capacity: This refers to the testator's mental ability to understand the nature and significance of creating a Will. If it can be demonstrated that the testator lacked the necessary mental capacity at the time of creating the Will, it may be deemed invalid. Factors that can affect testamentary capacity include mental illness, senility, or undue influence.

Undue influence: If it can be proven that the testator was coerced, manipulated, or unduly influenced by another person when creating the Will, it may be contested. Undue influence typically involves someone exerting pressure on the testator to make decisions against their own wishes or best interests.  It is often a caregiver who cuts off outsiders from contact with the testator.  It can be a child, a spouse, a home health aid of trusted advisor.

Fraud or forgery: If there is evidence to suggest that the Will was forged or that fraud was involved in its creation, it can be contested. This may include situations where someone impersonates the testator, forges their signature, or makes fraudulent changes to the Will.

Improper execution: Wills must generally meet certain formalities to be considered valid. If the Will was not properly executed according to the legal requirements of the jurisdiction, such as lack of witnesses or failure to sign the document correctly, it can be contested.  This often occurs when someone tries to use a “do it yourself Will kit.”  While DIY may be good for home improvement projects, it is best to consult professionals when planning to disburse your hard-earned assets.

Mistake or ambiguity: Another problem with DIY Will kits are mistakes or ambiguities in the Will that make it unclear or open to interpretation.  In such cases it may be contested. This can occur when the language used in the Will is vague, contradictory, or inconsistent, leading to disputes among beneficiaries.

Revocation or subsequent Will: If a more recent Will is discovered that explicitly revokes or replaces the previous Will, the newer version may be contested based upon all of the grounds discussed above.

It's important to note that contesting a Will can be a complex legal process, and the specific grounds for a challenge must be explored thoroughly as a Will contest is expensive and time-consuming as well as very difficult to win.  That is why your best course of action to avoid this for your family is to work with a team of professionals, including your lawyer, investment advisor and accountant, to develop an estate plan that best fits your intentions, and prepares you and your family for when “life happens.”

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Local Services By This Author

Martella Law Firm

Elder Law 18245 Paulson Drive, Port Charlotte, Florida, 33954

At Martella Law, we are dedicated to helping families prepare for when "life happens." We assist individuals and couples in transferring their hard-earned assets to loved ones and navigating end-of-life challenges for themselves and their parents.Areas of PracticeEstate PlanningWe offer solutions for those looking to protect their most important assets, namely their loved ones. Learn moreProbate ServicesWe help heirs navigate the court-supervised process of identifying and gathering the assets of a deceased person to transfer to beneficiaries. Learn moreMedicaid PlanningWe focus on the primary financial considerations and requirements to qualify for Medicaid payments for nursing home care. Learn moreTrust AdministrationTrust administration ensures your assets are passed without needing to pursue the probate process for assets properly placed in a trust. Learn moreSmall Business ConsultingFrom helping you decide what type of entity you should be to ensuring your documents are in place, we assist budding entrepreneurs in pursuing the "American Dream." Learn moreMeet Mark MartellaMy passion lies in educating the public about the truth concerning proper estate planning to protect individuals and their families. I'm here to prepare you for when "life happens!"Contact UsI offer a complimentary, confidential consultation in person, or via Zoom or phone if that is more convenient. I am even willing to go to someones home or medical facility for a consult and document signing if they are unable to travel due to physical limitations.Please call Tara at my Port Charlotte office at 941-867-6865.I am conveniently located at:18245 Paulson Drive,Port Charlotte, FL 33954

Martella Law Firm

Power of Attorney 18245 Paulson Drive, Port Charlotte, Florida, 33954

At Martella Law, we are dedicated to helping families prepare for when "life happens." We assist individuals and couples in transferring their hard-earned assets to loved ones and navigating end-of-life challenges for themselves and their parents.Areas of PracticeEstate PlanningWe offer solutions for those looking to protect their most important assets, namely their loved ones. Learn moreProbate ServicesWe help heirs navigate the court-supervised process of identifying and gathering the assets of a deceased person to transfer to beneficiaries. Learn moreMedicaid PlanningWe focus on the primary financial considerations and requirements to qualify for Medicaid payments for nursing home care. Learn moreTrust AdministrationTrust administration ensures your assets are passed without needing to pursue the probate process for assets properly placed in a trust. Learn moreSmall Business ConsultingFrom helping you decide what type of entity you should be to ensuring your documents are in place, we assist budding entrepreneurs in pursuing the "American Dream." Learn moreMeet Mark MartellaMy passion lies in educating the public about the truth concerning proper estate planning to protect individuals and their families. I'm here to prepare you for when "life happens!"Contact UsI offer a complimentary, confidential consultation in person, or via Zoom or phone if that is more convenient. I am even willing to go to someones home or medical facility for a consult and document signing if they are unable to travel due to physical limitations.Please call Tara at my Port Charlotte office at 941-867-6865.I am conveniently located at:18245 Paulson Drive,Port Charlotte, FL 33954

Martella Law Firm

Business Planning & Consultation 18245 Paulson Drive, Port Charlotte, Florida, 33954

At Martella Law, we are dedicated to helping families prepare for when "life happens." We assist individuals and couples in transferring their hard-earned assets to loved ones and navigating end-of-life challenges for themselves and their parents.Areas of PracticeEstate PlanningWe offer solutions for those looking to protect their most important assets, namely their loved ones. Learn moreProbate ServicesWe help heirs navigate the court-supervised process of identifying and gathering the assets of a deceased person to transfer to beneficiaries. Learn moreMedicaid PlanningWe focus on the primary financial considerations and requirements to qualify for Medicaid payments for nursing home care. Learn moreTrust AdministrationTrust administration ensures your assets are passed without needing to pursue the probate process for assets properly placed in a trust. Learn moreSmall Business ConsultingFrom helping you decide what type of entity you should be to ensuring your documents are in place, we assist budding entrepreneurs in pursuing the "American Dream." Learn moreMeet Mark MartellaMy passion lies in educating the public about the truth concerning proper estate planning to protect individuals and their families. I'm here to prepare you for when "life happens!"Contact UsI offer a complimentary, confidential consultation in person, or via Zoom or phone if that is more convenient. I am even willing to go to someones home or medical facility for a consult and document signing if they are unable to travel due to physical limitations.Please call Tara at my Port Charlotte office at 941-867-6865. I am conveniently located at: 18245 Paulson Drive, Port Charlotte, FL 33954