Most of us are concerned about COVID-19:: As of April 15, 2020, there are 22,081 confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Florida https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/, the World Health Organization (WHO) states there are 1,914,916 cases and over 100,000 deaths worldwide (https://covid19.who.int/), and, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides extensive information on prevention as well as what to do if you or someone close to you is sick (https://www.cdc.gov/). In addition, there is not enough testing to know who is contagious and there is no vaccine yet. As the news reminds us of our mortality today, many years ago Benjamin Franklin did as well when he wrote: “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. It’s also true that none of us knows which will be the last day when we’ll be able to make our own decisions.
While most of us will die or become disabled from a cause unrelated to COVID-19, an important step to take today is to review your Estate Plan if you have one, and consider seeking legal advice to discuss an Estate Plan if you don’t. If you have testamentary documents such as a Last Will and Testament, and/or Revocable Trust, be sure you know where your document(s) are – it’s not unusual for people to misplace their originals! Then read them to be sure your instructions are consistent with your present wishes: review the persons you have named as beneficiaries, as well as the persons appointed to carry our your directions such as the personal representative of your estate and/or your successor trustee; and if you have a Revocable Trust, ensure that it has been properly funded – if not start today in order to reduce the need for a probate proceeding after your death. You should also consider whether there have been any major life changes in your life and/or the lives of your beneficiaries or fiduciaries since you last executed your documents, such as moves, marriages, divorces, births, or deaths, and whether you have sold or acquired any new assets – if so consult with your attorney to review your estate plan and update as needed.
If you have no Estate Plan, you should review all your accounts and insurance policies, to know who you have listed as beneficiaries (both primary and contingent); keep in mind that leaving more than $15,000 directly to a minor child, outright, has troubling consequences in Florida as it may trigger a guardianship proceeding. If you own real estate, especially rental/investment property, you should obtain legal advice on how to protect such property from lawsuits during your life and how to avoid probate after death. A well-drafted Estate Plan should take the protection of your assets into account, and it should clearly set forth your wishes and instructions with regard to the distribution of your property upon your death. While a Last Will and Testament alone may suffice as a testamentary document in certain cases, other times a Revocable Trust will be a much better option particularly in cases where minor children and/or probate avoidance are a concern. While every situation and every family’s needs are different, all Estate Plans we draft for our clients include a Durable Power of Attorney (financial/administrative power of attorney), Designation of Health Care Surrogate (medical power of attorney), and Living Will (for end of life decisions); these documents are valid during your life and will help care for you and your assets in the event of your temporary or permanent incapacity as well as help you avoid a costly legal guardianship.
Also, if you have minor children, Florida law allows parents to designate another person to make your minor child’s medical decisions if you are away or otherwise unable to do so. If your children are adults or in college, they should obtain a Durable Power of Attorney and health care directives – those documents are as important for them to sign, as they are for you, and for the same reasons.
If you don’t have an Estate Plan, contact us today for a free telephone or initial consultation now that you have extra “stay at home” time, and learn how you can have your documents drafted and signed while remaining safely at home; a well-drafted Estate Plan will protect you, your loved ones, and your property, in addition to providing peace of mind.
A final thought regarding the heightened levels of anxiety going around due to the news. Since the questions of what and how much news to watch are frequent topics lately, we hope you’ll consider: “How Much New Is Too Much These Days?” https://www.nextavenue.org/too-much-news/ for information on how to set healthy boundaries around the daily news in order to “stay well, while staying informed”.
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