Answer: Yes, everyone should have a basic Estate Plan, consisting of at least the following documents; a Last Will & Testament; a Living Will; a Health Care Surrogate Form; and a Power of Attorney.
The law regarding Powers of Attorney changed in 2011, so if your PoA is older than that, you should consult with an attorney. And, while you’re at it, why not take this time to update all of your Estate Planning documents?
Question: I’m Not Rich. Should I Still Set Up an Estate Plan?
Answer: Yes. Estate Planning is for wealth, of course, but it’s also to give you the last word on how you want things to be set up for you when you need help. Good Estate Planning isn’t just for when someone dies – it also sets things up when one is still alive but unable to take care of him or herself, temporarily or permanently. Without it, you may be at the whim of someone who may try to establish guardianship over you and your assets.
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As with all of our services, you can expect prompt and professional assistance, and your matter will be handled directly by the attorney. We always offer a free ½ hour office consultation on all estate planning and probate matters.
Last Will and Testament:
Your Will is where you direct your assets to go to certain individuals or charities: This mainly relates to real estate, cash and investments. You can be as straight-forward (“everything to my children”) or as creative (“half to my children, 25% to my favorite charity and 25% to my University”) as you’d like. After all, you’re in charge and that’s the point – you can pick who gets what. You are in complete control. You can also choose who isn’t included in your Will. Some people haven’t seen or heard from their adult children in years and choose to leave them of the inheritance process.
We’re often asked about “stuff”, i.e., old jewelry, sterling silver, photographs, that old civil war rifle. These typically do not go in a Will. For those with very specific bequests of things, we have created a separate form that allows you to list beneficiaries and what is earmarked for them. Florida Statutes allow a signed and dated “devise of personal property” to be enforced along with the Will.
Health Care Surrogate Form:
This document allows you to appoint a person to act as your surrogate to make health care and medical decisions on your behalf in the event you become incompetent to make those types of decisions. This also includes the so-called “Living Will”, which says that if one is in a persistent vegetative state (a coma) or a terminal state, he/she doesn’t want any extraordinary measures taken to keep them artificially alive.
Power of Attorney:
This very important document allows you to appoint a person to act as your “attorney in fact” (essentially to act on your behalf) to make financial and other non-health care related decisions when you cannot do so. This document allows the person you appoint to take actions on your behalf which include, but are not necessarily limited to, making banking decisions; buying and selling stocks and bonds; buying and selling real estate; collecting rents and debts; and engaging in some legal proceedings. It needs to be someone that you have complete and total trust in, as that person can assert control of your affairs as soon as the document is signed.
The Florida Statutes of PoA changed in 2011 and most forms are now quite lengthy to define exactly what powers an attorney-in-fact now has.
How to Avoid Probate
Probate is the name for the Court proceeding where a deceased person’s property is transferred to those persons he or she has designated to receive it, and a deceased person’s bills are paid. It is no longer the big bad beast it once was where beneficiaries inherit a small percentage of whatever your loved one left. Legal fees are controlled by statute or by contract – again, you can be in charge.
However, for those who would like to avoid the process of probate, there are a number of ways to accomplish this. We can help discuss your Estate Planning goals as we go.
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