Right now, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is making all of us take a closer look at so many things in our lives: how we socialize; how we do our work; even how we wash our hands. As an inheritance attorney, I firmly believe that estate planning documents have always been important. But now, in light of the pandemic, it is absolutely critical that every adult over 18 have certain documents in place to prepare for an uncertain future.
Each individual’s situation is unique. Therefore the documents anyone needs for his or her estate planning will vary.
All estate planning documents are important. But here are 4 that we think are especially important to have right now.
Last Will and Testament.
Here’s the bottom line: don’t die without one.
A “Last Will and Testament” (referred to here as your “will”) is the written instrument that dictates how your assets (i.e., your real and personal property) will be distributed. Among other things, your will is the instrument you use to:
- Name your beneficiaries (who gets what)
- designate a personal representative (also known as an “executor”)
- name a guardian for your children
- specify how your cash will be distributed
If you die without a will (“intestate”) then Florida state law will determine who gets what, and who will take care of your children.
Durable Power of Attorney
The importance of having a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA)—especially now —cannot be overstated.
A durable power of attorney gives another person written authority to make financial decisions for you if you should become incapacitated. Ask any lawyer for wills and trusts, and she will probably tell you that this one document is critical to have. If for any reason you become too ill (oh, I don’t know, let’s say your health is compromised and you get COVID) or incapacitated and cannot act for yourself, a DPOA allows someone else to make financial decisions for you like:
- Paying your bills
- Talking to your credit card company
- Selling your property
- Paying your mortgage
- Overseeing your investments.
Without one, if you become too ill or incapacitated to handle your financial affairs yourself, the only way someone else can step in and act for you is if they petition the court to become your guardian. This applies even as between spouses. A costly and time-consuming prospect at the best of times, in today’s pandemic aftermath, the time it will take to petition the court for guardianship can’t even be guessed at.
Health Care Surrogate
Another important document to have in the event you become incapacitated is a Health Care Surrogate. A Health Care Surrogate Designation is one type of “advance directive.” An advance directive is a statement describing how you want medical decisions to be made for you if you can’t make them yourself. Generally, there are 3 types of advance directives:
- A Living Will
- A Health Care Surrogate Designation
- An Anatomical Donation
The Health Care Surrogate Designation (“Health Care Surrogate”) gives you the chance to make decisions now about your possible future by naming someone you trust to make health care decisions for you if you become unable to do so for yourself. It also gives you a chance to lay out clearly what types of medical treatments (e.g., feeding tubes, artificial life support) you do and do not want to receive.
Another critical trusts and estates document, and another advance directive (see above), is the Living Will. This is not to be confused with your Last Will and Testament (“will”).
A Living Will is a written statement that tells medical personnel and your family what kind of medical treatment(s) you do or don’t want if you should become incapacitated.
Your will, on the other hand, tells the probate court how you want your property distributed. So having a will does not necessarily mean that you can do without a probate lawyer because your will does have to be probated.
There can be no better time than now to protect your property, your family, and your wishes by making sure that you have all the estate planning documents you need.
Protecting Your Family is Just a Phone Call Away.
Don’t leave planning for your future and that of your loved ones to chance. All it takes is one phone call to the Law Offices of Samantha J. Fitzgerald to ensure that your wishes will be followed and your loved ones taken care of when you are gone. We expertly guide individuals through the complex probate process, and capably handle all aspects of the creation, administration, and settlement of trusts as well. When you work with the estate planning attorneys at the Law Offices of Samantha J. Fitzgerald, you get more than just an estate plan: you get peace of mind. Call us at 954-580-3690 or email us at: [email protected] today.