2020 is certainly bearing its fangs. Just when we start to digest one calamity, another one unravels. And to think, Floridians are about to embark on another hurricane season. With all such recent events, it is clear we need to craft a readiness plan for anything 2020 throws our way.
What does this mean exactly? This means you need to make a list of all the things that keep you up at night, along with your desired solutions. Then you have to put it in writing in a way that conforms to Florida law and will be honored in case of your sudden illness or death. If nothing comes to mind in the light of day, let us assist you in “bracing for impact.”
Here is a list of the items you MUST put in writing (from a legal standpoint) in order for your wishes to be carried out.
- Nominating Guardians for Your Children – If you have minor children (those under 18 years of age in Florida), your Last Will and Testament is where you (and your spouse) name a guardian to physically and financially take care of your children if something happens to you. Putting your wishes in writing reduces lawsuits that arise over custody (often involving both sets of grandparents) in cases of the sudden death of one or both parents.
- Relationship with Your Stepchildren – Believe it or not, stepchildren and stepparents have no legal relationship to each other (unless the stepparent legally adopted their stepchild thus creating a legal relationship). That means there is no legal right to any inheritance, from both sides. For example, if you have lived with your stepchildren for many years and love them and wish to leave them some inheritance, you must put these wishes in writing. This can be done either through a Last Will and Testament or a Trust. Without any such writing, Florida inheritance laws do not have any provisions for stepchildren inheriting from a stepparent (absent a legal adoption).
- Who Will Handle Your Finances in Case You Become Sick – By creating a Durable Power of Attorney, you can prevent MAJOR legal conundrums. This document works while you are alive (but sick, injured, or incapacitated) and allows you to designate who should make legal and financial decisions for you in case of your incapacitaty. The person you choose is called your “agent.” Your agent will be able to do things such as pay your bills, withdraw money from your bank account, speak with your credit card companies, mortgage lender, health insurance company, etc. to make any necessary changes that your life will require. Make sure you speak with whoever you designate as your agent beforehand to ensure they are on board.
- Beneficiaries on Your Financial Accounts – If you have a savings account, checking account, stock brokerage account, life insurance policy, etc., contact your bank or financial adviser to make sure you list the proper beneficiary on each account. This means that upon your passing, that financial institution has an obligation to transfer the proceeds from that account to the person listed as your beneficiary. Likewise, if you created the account so long ago and do not recall who you listed, now is the time to update it and make sure it reflects your current wishes.
- If You Own Your Home, You Need a Revocable Trust – Think about how your savings account, life insurance policy, and brokerage account all allow for a beneficiary designation (sometimes called a Payable on Death [POD] form). Can you do that with your house? The answer is NO. When the owners of a home, investment property, or any other type of real estate, pass away, the property must go through a court supervised process called “probate” in order for their heirs to inherit the property. The best way to avoid your family having to go through the court system is to create a Revocable Trust while you are alive.
We understand the love you have for your children, your parents, and are here to provide you with peace of mind. Luckily, you do not have to attempt this alone. Our law firm can help you craft the proper estate planning documents to match your particular family situation. We have made the proper adjustments to remain fully functional with remote staff as well as providing a safe and healthy environment for any clients that need to come to our office.