By Michelangelo Mortellaro, P.A.
Who needs an estate plan?
“Not me. I’m not rich. I don’t own anything valuable.”
“Not me. I’ll get to it later. I’m too busy right now.”
“Not me. I’m healthy and young.”
The truth is: Every adult needs an estate plan. It’s not just for the wealthy, or seniors, or for people with medical issues.
As all of us are experiencing today, life as we know it can change quickly. Are you and your loved ones prepared? Who would step in to take care of you – right now – if you suddenly couldn’t speak for yourself? Even if you know who you want, has that person been given the authority – legally – to act on your behalf?
If you can’t answer these questions, or if the subject matter is something you haven’t wanted to deal with, then it’s time to make time. You need to protect yourself, your family, your property and your well-being.
This is not meant to sound an alarm. It does not take a global pandemic for your life to be turned upside down. A car accident on the way to the grocery store could render you incapacitated.
Estate planning documents provide security and peace of mind. All it takes is some reflecting, advising and putting your wishes onto legal documents. It only takes a matter of days and the cost may not be as expensive as you think.
Why Do I Need Estate Planning?
Before we tackle the types of documents involved, it’s important to understand why everyone should have them in place. The tale of Terry Schiavo is an example of why even young people need to have at least the most basic documents.
In 1990, Terry Schiavo suffered cardiac arrest in her St. Petersburg home. She was 26 years old. Though Terry was successfully resuscitated, the lack of oxygen to her brain left her in a coma. Months later, doctors said she was in an irreversible persistent vegetative state. She remained alive because of a feeding tube.
After years of therapy attempts resulted in failure, her husband, Michael, petitioned a court to remove her feeding tube. Terry’s parents objected. Because Terry had not put her wish to be removed from artificial life-sustaining measures in writing, the two sides clashed in court until 2005. Before her feeding tube was removed, the case involved local, state and federal courts, a governor and members of Congress over 15 years.
What Are the Key Estate Planning Documents?
The absolute basics everyone should have are called Advance Directives: the Durable Power of Attorney, the Healthcare Surrogate, and the Living Will. These documents come into play while you are alive.
The Durable Power of Attorney grants someone either specific or wide-ranging control of legal and financial aspects of your life. As the “principal,” you enable your “agent” to act on your behalf. The power to do so is immediate, though you can amend or revoke this document at any time. Now, if something unfortunate should befall you, there is someone who can use the document to speak to financial institutions and utilities to manage your accounts and pay bills.
The Healthcare Surrogate, sometimes called a healthcare power of attorney, authorizes someone to discuss your healthcare and treatment with medical professionals if you cannot speak for yourself. Your agent can ask for or refuse treatments, access your medical records, hire/fire medical personnel, and make decisions about which facilities are best for you.
A Living Will allows you to spell out what you do and do not receive from medical professionals if you are unable to speak for yourself. For example, do you want to be on life-prolonging machines and feeding procedures at the end of life, even if there is little to no hope of coming back? A well-crafted living will gives clear direction to your family and friends about your wishes in these situations. Because it’s all in writing, it takes the burden off siblings and can keep the peace if there are differing opinions.
Next Level Planning
After those basics, there is the matter of your assets and property after you die. A Last Will and Testament names someone to carry out your wishes for your estate. This person is called the Personal Representative in Florida. This may or may not involve setting up a trust. A simple will might be best for some folks, but a trust could be a necessity for others.
An estate planning attorney can help you navigate your situation. For example, if you have a blended family of children and step children from previous marriages, who will raise the minor children if you pass? How can you ensure that your assets pass down to your children in that situation?
Estate planning should be updated after all key life-changing events: marriage, divorce, birth of children, death of parents, siblings, spouses and children. And many more. The worst choice you can make is to do nothing. When you do nothing, you put a judge and the state statutes in charge. That judge does not know you, does not know your family dynamics and will likely default to state law.
At Mortellaro Law, we want to hear your story and provide you with peace of mind. Our documents remain up-to-date with current state statutes. Clients who join our Legacy Care Program for estate planning enjoy annual reviews.
Our office is fully operational at this crucial time. We can talk via telephone or video conferencing. Our clients and their needs are important to us. We’re ready to assist you, too.
The Law Office of
Michelangelo Mortellaro, P.A.
13528 Prestige Place, Suite 106
Tampa, FL 33635