Meeting your Estate Planning Attorney for the First Time? Here’s what to Expect:

January 3, 2018

“Easy decisions equals a hard life, hard decisions equals an easy life.”  As human beings we tend to put off difficult decisions for a later time but unfortunately “later” oftentimes becomes “never”. When it comes to making sure our loved ones are cared for, it is important to plan ahead of time. We are here to make the process of planning ahead simple for you, so you can rest easy knowing your loved ones will be cared for. The following is a list of common issues that arise during your first meeting with your estate planning attorney, so that you may be better prepared. We will tailor our services to your unique circumstances, as no two clients are the same.

  1. Make a list of what you have (your assets) and what you owe (liabilities). Having a detailed list of what you own and what you owe will make the estate planning process simpler. Your assets typically include your house, money in the bank, investment accounts, personal property (i.e. expensive artwork or jewelry), business interests, life insurance policies, and retirement accounts (i.e. 401k). For each item, list the estimated value and whether it is individually or jointly owned. Similarly include a list of your debts and/or legal obligations such as credit card debt, mortgage on home, unpaid loans, etc.
  2. Who do you want to get your stuff? Who will be the beneficiaries of your estate plan? It could be a spouse, your children, brother, sister, or a charity that’s dear to your heart. It is important to pinpoint who you want to get what.
  3. You have options. You’ve earned every penny of your estate and you get to decide how you want it distributed. You may place your assets into a “living trust” or have them distributed through a “last will and testament (will)”. A living trust is a primary estate planning document that is used in place of a last will and testament. The benefits of using a trust include bypassing the probate process and protection of assets from potential creditors. Living trusts can be canceled or changed at any time by creator of the trust, and trusts, unlike wills, do not become public records. A will allows you to designate beneficiaries who inherit your assets upon death. You may select a personal representative to carry out your last wishes according to your will. There are two drawbacks to using a will. First, the beneficiaries you designate will have to go through a court process (probate) in order to inherit what is rightfully theirs. Secondly, a will becomes a part of public records.
  4. Who should you appoint as Personal representative(s) or Trustee? A personal representative is the person or entity entrusted to administer your estate upon death. Florida law prefers that the person named be a state resident or a family member. Their responsibilities include gathering your assets, paying expenses, debts, taxes, and then distributing the assets to beneficiaries according to the will.Unlike a personal representative, there is no restriction on who may be selected to serve as trustee. People typically choose a family member, close friend, and/or professional to serve as trustee. The trustee is in charge of making distributions according to the directions in your Trust.
  5. Who should make medical decisions for you if you are unable to? A healthcare surrogate, also known as a healthcare proxy, allows you to name someone (“agent”) that will make healthcare decisions for you in case you are unable to make them yourself. This is crucial because it prevents disagreements within the family as to who should make these critical decisions. Such decisions include consenting to certain medical procedures, seeking a second opinion, obtaining medical records, or transferring you to a different facility.
  6. Who should be in charge of your financial and legal affairs if you can’t be? The most common Power of Attorney used with Estate Planning and Elder law is the Durable Power of Attorney. It allows you (“the principal”) to select a person (“the agent”) to “step into your shoes” if you become mentally or physically incapacitated. Incapacity can be caused by a number of conditions including Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Parkinson’s, etc. With a properly executed Power of Attorney, the agent will be able to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf. This is a very trusting responsibility so you should appoint a family member or close friend. The Power of Attorney document ends when a person passes away. At which point, your trust or will should kick in to dictate the terms of how to distribute your estate.

A consultation with an estate planning attorney is a crucial step in securing your future today.  Call OC Estate & Elder Law, PA for your free consultation.