As 2018 wraps to a close, we begin to reflect on the things we should and shouldn’t have done. Our resolutions arise from this reflection, and we begin to make decisions that will help us start the New Year right. Maybe we’ll start sleeping more. Maybe we’ll finally get that gym membership we keep talking about and go to the gym. Maybe we’ll leave fast food in the dust. As great as those resolutions may be, it’s hard to keep up them around in the long-term. Reality strikes, and most of the time, these resolutions fade away within the year.
For this upcoming new year, make a resolution that will be around in the long-term. Make a resolution that will end up helping you and your family, for much longer than just a year. Get your family set up with an estate plan. Your family’s properties and assets will be protected, your choice of care in unexpected times will be adhered to, and your family’s inheritance will not end up in the wrong hands. These benefits are just the beginning.
Here are a few “must have” legal documents for the upcoming year. If confused, don’t worry. We have a comprehensive and in-depth description of these documents, as well as the terms that go with them.
1. Living Trusts
A “Living Trust” is a primary estate planning document that is used in place of a Last Will and Testament (“Will”). Assets are then transferred into the Trust.
- Trusts are used to by-pass probate. This means that upon your death, all assets in the Trust pass to the beneficiaries through the Trust, and not through any court process.
- Trusts can provide your beneficiaries with asset protection. Upon inheriting any monies or assets through a Trust, the beneficiary enjoys financial protection from future creditors, divorces, and bankruptcy.
- These types of Trusts are fully revocable: the creator can change any terms or completely revoke (cancel) the Trust.
- Trusts are private documents that unlike, Wills do not become a part of the public record.
2. Power of Attorney
The most common Power of Attorney used with estate planning and Elder Law is the Durable Power of Attorney sometimes referred to as a financial power of attorney, general power of attorney, or a power of attorney for property. It allows you (the “principal”) to select a person (the “agent”) to “step into your shoes” if you become mentally or physically incapacitated.
3. Health Care Surrogate and Living Will.
A Health Care Surrogate, also known as a Health Care Proxy, allows you to plan for difficult medical decisions. It allows you to name someone (the “agent”) that will make health care 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 medical facility.
If you don’t prepare a Health Care Surrogate document, and you fall ill and cannot make your own medical decisions, then the healthcare facility will follow Florida law to determine who is responsible for your healthcare decisions.
A Living Will allows you to state your wishes about your end-of-life medical care. This allows your health care surrogate (person you nominate to make medical decisions for you) to best carry out your health care wishes regarding life sustaining procedures. Living Wills include a set of legal instructions about the treatment you wish to receive if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. You can revoke or revise a valid Living Will at any time.
P.S. Don’t forget to update those documents!
Whether it’s a new family member, marriage, or even bank account, be sure to update your estate plan every time you go through a major life change. The more up-to-date it is, the better off you and your family will be.