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July 14, 2020

The seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Americans to confront many issues they had previously put off because the topics are uncomfortable. Mortality has become a central concern, so estate planning has become a priority for many individuals who currently have no plan in place and face the prospect of their estate going through probate court and being distributed according to Florida’s laws of intestacy rather than their own wishes. There are a few important documents you should have in place to handle unexpected situations such as illness, incapacitation, or death that make up a solid, basic estate plan.

Florida Advance Healthcare Directive

In case illness renders you unable to communicate your wishes to the medical staff or your physician, you should have an Advance Healthcare Directive in place that spells out your wishes for decisions related to your health care. These may include:

  • The doctor you want overseeing your care
  • Medical procedures you do and do not want performed
  • Your wishes regarding life-sustaining treatment if the situation arises
  • Organ donation

In your Directive, you’ll designate a Surrogate responsible for making healthcare decisions on your behalf and carrying out your wishes. This document can greatly ease the burden on your loved ones if you are cannot communicate your wishes at the time decisions need to be made.

Florida Durable Power of Attorney

A Durable Power of Attorney legally authorizes a designated Agent to act on your behalf, manage your property, and handle your finances if you are unable to do so yourself. Among other things, your agent will be able to:

  • Buy and sell assets
  • Pay bills
  • Write checks
  • Sign and file tax returns
  • Make deposits
  • Sell real estate

You should designate someone you trust as your Agent and designate a backup if that person is unable or unwilling to perform their duties for any reason. Your Agent can be any competent adult, but should be someone responsible and, ideally, nearby. If no Agent is designated, your family will have to ask a probate court to find and appoint a guardian responsible for executing these duties.

Florida Living Trust

Perhaps one of the most important documents is a Trust, created by executing a Trust Agreement that describes the way a Trustee must:

  • Hold your assets during your lifetime for your benefit
  • Manage those assets if you are incapacitated
  • Oversee distribution of your assets upon your death

Whomever you name as Trustee has legal control over all assets in the Trust but must obey any management limits you set. You may be Trustee of your own Trust during your lifetime, and if you become unable to manage it yourself your named successor Trustee can step in for you.

Upon your death, the terms you created for your Trust will dictate how and when a Trustee distributes assets in accordance with your wishes. Trustees can also manage assets for a child or an immature beneficiary until they are able to manage it themselves.

Florida Will

A Last Will and Testament (commonly known as a Will) sets out your directions for distributing any assets, such as property, not held in trust upon your death. Jointly held assets, assets with proper beneficiaries or assets held in trust will not be subject to the Probate court.  Probate administration is necessary for those assets held solely in your name (without a proper beneficiary).  This is where the Will comes in – the Will instructs the court on how the assets will be distributed.  Without the Will, Florida law will determine how your estate will be distributed.  Perhaps most importantly for some, a Will allows you to designate who will become guardian of your minor children – without it, the court will make that decision for you.

Safe Estate Planning During Covid-19

Once you know which documents will complete your estate plan – or if you need to update your current plan – you may wonder how you’ll be able to meet with an attorney and execute these documents safely. The Legacy Law Firm is dedicated to meeting your estate planning needs during these unprecedented times while taking proper precautions to ensure the safety of both your family and our team.

We offer consultations by phone, and we hold any review meetings needed either telephonically or through a secure videoconferencing service. When it’s time to execute documents in your estate plan, we will arrange a short signing, during which our team will wear face masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Contact a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer

Even though COVID-19 has created a sense of uncertainty in many areas of our lives, creating or updating an estate plan is a huge step in taking back control and gaining some peace of mind. The experienced estate planning attorneys at The Legacy Law Firm can help you create a plan that aligns with your wishes and prepares you for any unforeseen circumstances that may arise in the future. Call us today at (954) 999-9683 or contact us online to learn more and start planning your future.