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March 13

Estate Planning Tips for Snowbirds

Written by Thomas in

Traveling to a warmer climate when the snow flies and the temperature drops into the single digits can be wonderful, but it also carries some legal implications you may not have considered. Before you purchase a winter home in Florida and head off for some lovely days on the golf course (while your loved ones back home are rushing out for bread and milk), you’ll want to make sure that your assets, medical care, and other important issues have been attended to.

Avoiding Ancillary Probate

When you own real estate in more than one state, or own real estate in one state but live in another, the executor of your estate may be required to open two probate cases in different states. Most executors have their hands full managing one probate case, and will not appreciate the added time investment and complications that can come with opening a second probate case halfway across the country.

With good planning and legal guidance, you can avoid this outcome. For example, you may want to consider:

  • Placing the out-of-state property in a living trust, which means that ownership of the property will not change when you pass on. Instead, the interest in the property will smoothly transition to the new beneficiary or beneficiaries of the trust; or
  • Making sure that your winter home is titled in a way that allows your interest to pass directly to a co-owner, such as your spouse.

The right solution for you will depend on a number of factors. Talking to an estate lawyer accustomed to planning for multi-state assets can be your most powerful tool when it comes to choosing the right structure for your estate.

Protecting Health Care Decisions While Traveling

It’s in everyone’s best interest to have a health care power of attorney in place, ensuring that someone you trust and who understands your wishes is empowered to speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself. However, many people do not realize that the requirements for an effective health care power of attorney, advance directive, or other medical documents may differ from state to state.

If you are a regular traveler or spend a significant amount of time outside your home state, it is important to talk to your estate or elder law attorney about how you can protect yourself if you should fall ill or be injured out of state. If you’re faced with a serious illness or injury, it may be too late to make these arrangements. Gathering the information you need and working with a law firm that is prepared to handle interstate issues or to partner with an attorney in your other “home state” will give you peace of mind, protect your rights, and spare your family significant stress and possible conflict.

How are Snowbird Estates Different?

The answer to that question varies depending on the two states involved, whether you own real estate in the secondary state, whether you have minor children, what your health care needs are or are likely to be, whether you use a will or living trust, and a variety of other factors. The issues above illustrate the pitfalls of considering only your primary state of residence when deciding for your assets, medical care, and other interests, but do not provide an exhaustive list of considerations.

The best way to learn more and make informed decisions is to speak with an estate lawyer or elder law attorney who understands the issues facing travelers.