In this very mobile society, clients often move from state to state. Whether the move is due to job opportunities, to be close (or far) from family or just for a change of scenery, many people will live in multiple states in their lifetime. They often don’t realize that estate planning laws vary greatly from state to state and understanding the difference could have a significant impact on whether your estate plan is effective. It is best to get this straight shortly after moving, says The National Law Review in the recent article “Updating Your Estate Plan: What Michigan Residents Need to Know When Moving to Florida.”
It’s not just people from Michigan who move to Florida who need to have their estate plans reviewed, if they are snowbirds or making a full-time move—it’s anyone who moves to another state, from any state. However, Florida’s popularity makes it a good example to use.
Florida restricts who is permitted to serve as a Personal Representatives under a will. The personal representative, also known as an executor, must be a descendant or ancestor of the decedent, a spouse, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, nephew, niece or descendant or ancestor of any such person or a Florida resident.
Florida doesn’t recognize “no contest” clauses in trusts or wills. It also does not recognize unwitnessed testamentary documents, which are handwritten documents even if they are in your own handwriting. By way of example, Texas does and have had to utilize that option during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Florida also has a special set of laws, known as the Homestead laws, designed to protect a decedent’s surviving spouse and children. You may have had other plans for your Florida home, but they may not be passed to the people you have designated in your non-Florida will, if they don’t follow the Sunshine State’s guidelines.
Power of Attorney laws differ from state to state, and this can create huge headaches for families. In many states, powers of attorney can be “springing,” meaning they become effective upon disability. In Florida, once a Durable Power of Attorney is signed, it is effective. Florida may accept a power of attorney from another state, but Florida law will be applied to the agent’s actions, and restrictions will be based on Florida law, not that of another state.
Estate planning in different states is very unique when it comes to estate planning documents concerning medical and financial decisions while you are living, these are also different. I routinely tell people that if you relocate, you have to change these documents. A living will names a person, known as a “Patient Advocate” in Michigan or a “Health Care Surrogate” in Florida, who is authorized to make decisions regarding end of life care, including providing, withholding, or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment. In Michigan, you need two doctors to certify a patient’s incapacity for non-life-or-death decisions. In Florida, only one doctor is needed. Even simpler, these documents will not be reviewed by attorneys. They will be reviewed by medical professionals rendering care to you. So, it is best to give them the format they anticipate so there is not delay in providing care to you.
On a broader prospective, estate administrations are very different in different estates, and that leads to different goals in estate planning. I’m admitted in Pennsylvania, New York and Texas. In Pennsylvania, we frequently used wills as the primary estate plan vehicle because the probate process is easy to initiate, and all of the work of an estate administration exists whether or not you are using a trust. In New York, we almost exclusively used trusts. Probate was far more involved and expensive, which made living trusts extremely helpful to clients. In Texas, we definitely draft more trusts as they are still beneficial, but it isn’t nearly as critical as it is in New York. To make it one step worse, Pennsylvania has inheritance taxes, New York has estate taxes, and Texas has neither. Those are three very different estate planning realities.
As a final point, if you expect to relocate in the future and are considering estate planning, I strongly recommend a living trusts. Trusts tend to be portable as they go outside of the court probate process, which is where many of the state nuances lie. This is also helpful because clients who move often have real estate in multiple states. Real property in multiple states potential means multiple probates, which people don’t expect.
So, if you are planning on a move or even if you just spend substantial time outside of your home state, meet with your estate planning attorney to understand how any and all of your estate planning documents will work—or not—when you are in another state.
Reference: The National Law Review (June 30, 2021) “Updating Your Estate Plan: What Michigan Residents Need to Know When Moving to Florida”