The coronavirus pandemic is another example of how life is unpredictable, and how we often have to adjust to changing circumstances that affect our lives. Even before the pandemic, it was recommended to work with your estate lawyer to review your estate plan after key life events. This ensures that the plan adequately addresses your particular circumstances in life. The coronavirus is only amplifying the importance of that recommendation in several respects:
- Medical Directives. A medical directive should include at a minimum a living will and a health care surrogate designation. These legal documents will ensure that doctors know what your wishes are under various circumstances, and ensures that someone can make decisions for you in the event your wishes are not clear under the circumstances presented. This can apply at any adult age (after 18 years of age), not just in regards to elder law.
- Power of Attorney. A power of attorney allows another to act for you to manage your finances and property if you become incapacitated. Without a durable power of attorney, no one can represent you unless a Circuit Court appoints a guardian. That court process takes time, costs money, and the judge may not choose a person that you would prefer, so make sure you have a designated individual in place before elder care could be needed. In Florida, a durable power of attorney is effective from the moment it is executed. As a result, it is important to secure those documents while also making them available to the person appointed when they are needed.
- Will. Nearly everyone is familiar with the purposes of a Last Will and Testament. A will is a document that sets out who will receive your property at your death, and who will serve as the executor or personal representative of your estate to effectuate the terms of your Will. If you do not have a will, the state will determine how your property is distributed through the “intestacy” laws. It should be noted that a Will only covers probate property. Many types of property or forms of ownership pass outside of probate. Examples include jointly-owned property, property in trust, life insurance proceeds, and property with a named beneficiary, such as IRAs or 401(k) plans, all pass outside of probate and aren’t covered under a will. You can talk to your estate lawyer about other options if you are concerned about what will happen with your estate.
- Trust. A trust is a legal arrangement through which one person (a family member or an institution, such as a bank or law firm), called a “trustee,” holds legal title to property for another person, called a “beneficiary.” Trusts can serve valuable purposes, including the avoidance of probate proceedings which can be costly and time-consuming. The trust holds property and/or funds for the benefit of another until the death of the trust settlor, and then transfers that property or funds to the beneficiaries when the settler passes, thereby avoiding the need for probate. Of course, it is important to arrange all of this with your estate lawyer to ensure your wishes are followed without lengthy time spent in probate court.
- Beneficiary Designations. As with a trust, you can avoid the need for probate litigation by reviewing beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and other financial instruments. To the extent these documents require financial institutions to transfer funds directly to designated beneficiaries, there is no need for these instruments to be litigated in a probate proceeding.
You should contact an experienced Florida estate planning attorney to ensure your estate plan meets your needs in these uncertain times. Most estate planning can be done remotely over the phone, or through videoconferencing if desired, and the documents can be reviewed and executed often with little or no need for in-person contact — so you do not need to wait for the coronavirus pandemic to subside before seeking out legal guidance for your estate. If we can be of assistance for estate concerns in Destin, Niceville, 30A, Fort Walton Beach or anywhere else in Okaloosa and Walton Counties, please feel free to contact our law firm at any time by clicking HERE and submitting an online inquiry, or calling us to schedule a consultation at (850) 613-6923.