Florida Snowbirds and Estate Planning Considerations

by | Feb 22, 2023

The first few months of the year are snowbird season in Florida, including here in the Sarasota area. A “snowbird,” as locals often refer to them, is someone from a northern state who spends some or all of the winter in Florida. The main draw, of course, is the incredible weather here. Instead of being cooped up inside, huddled under blankets and looking out at various shades of brown and gray, snowbirds can instead enjoy warm, sunny weather surrounded by palm trees, lush greenery, and clear blue skies.

As in many other Florida locales, Sarasota’s population tends to swell during snowbird season as people “migrate” here for the winter. And it’s easy to understand why, because Sarasota has a lot to offer. You can take in the beauty of Selby Gardens, where orchids and other local winter-blooming flora are on full-color display. Other great options include visiting the Ringling Brothers Museum, walking or biking the wonderful Legacy Trail, or taking in a Major League Baseball spring training game. There are lots of reasons snowbirds flock to this area. And we’re happy to have them!

Many snowbirds divide their time between Florida and their official state of residence. A common option is to spend less than half the year in Florida, usually during the winter months, and retain official residency elsewhere. Splitting your time between residences has many benefits. Beyond the weather advantages, Florida tax laws are kind to retirees, which factors into many peoples’ retirement home decisions. Perhaps less well-known but just as appealing: Florida also has arguably some of the best estate protection laws in the country.

However, these financial benefits may require some legal actions, which is why seeking the assistance of a Florida estate attorney is highly recommended. Below are a few considerations to bear in mind, especially with regard to their impact on snowbirds.

  • First and foremost, it’s important to understand that only official Florida residents can take advantage of the state’s excellent tax and estate protection laws. Non-Florida residents’ estates generally are subject to the probate and tax laws of their home-residency state. This usually means that more money has to come out of the estate to pay the government and lawyers, leaving less money for the intended estate beneficiaries.

  • While you might spend every winter in Florida and even identify as a Floridian, you are not legally considered a Florida resident unless and until you officially establish residency. For those who want to learn more about how to do that, I recommend reading the information at this website, offered by the State of Florida: https://www.stateofflorida.com/residency/
  • Snowbirds often own one or more properties in Florida, either outright or as a timeshare. They might reside there for part of the year, or they might view their property solely as investment, often renting out to others. Regardless of how a property is used, things can get a bit complicated when an out-of-state title holder passes away, depending on how that property is titled.

    • We often see cases in which a snowbird who owns property in Florida passes away, and their estate is probated in their residency state. Because other states have no jurisdiction over Florida properties, their beautiful Florida property winds up being stuck in limbo in Florida.
    • In these situations, a Florida probate is usually needed in order for the beneficiaries to take title. This can sometimes be a heavily involved process, but there are also circumstances in which an abbreviated probate is all that’s required. Either way, enlisting the help of an estate attorney can be crucial in determining the best, and most cost-effective, solution in these cases.

We are always available for a consult on estate-related issues at the Matechik Law Firm.

Whether you’re an official Florida resident, an out-of-state snowbird, or a visitor who fell in love with Sarasota and wants to explore Florida residency and property ownership options—call us or book your consult online. We can help!

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