The Ultimate Plan
Dana Laganella Gerling, Esq. Affordable Attorney,
Gerling Law Group Chartered
Imagine packing for a trip to Bora Bora and not taking sunscreen, a bathing suit or your toiletries. You are out in the middle of a beautiful paradise in an over-water bungalow and no stores in sight. Now what?
Now apply this scenario to planning for your future, but not having the proper estate planning tools. You have no will, no power of attorney, no health surrogate and no living will. Now what? What will your loved ones do without any instructions from you? Who will handle your affairs if you are unable to? Will your children and grandchildren be provided for the way you intended? Who will make sure that your estate is handled properly?
These are all relevant questions when it comes to having a plan. An Estate Plan that is. It used to be that only the wealthy would draft trusts and prepare extensive wills. However, times have changed as evidenced by the media and long drawn out cases such as the Terri Schiavo case. Do you really want your family to have to go through a long legal battle as to who is able to make the decision for prolonged life support? Now more than ever, families are discussing these issues around the dinner table because they realize the importance of leaving your loved ones with clear instructions.
A defined estate plan begins with a family discussion and then with some good advice from an attorney who is up to date with the ever evolving state specific legislation. For example, in October 2011, the Florida legislature amended the statute governing powers of attorney in Chapter 709 of the Florida Statutes. This was an attempt to achieve greater consistency among the states by conforming Florida’s power of attorney law to the Uniform Power of Attorney Act. If you were to use one of the myriad of “online self-help” forms out there, would you be guaranteed that their power of attorney form has been updated? Will the online service explain the changes and how they affect you?
In Bora Bora, the need for sun block protection is a no-brainer. The same can be said for a power of attorney. This document nominates a person, who, in the event you become incapacitated, will have the power to make all non-medical decisions for you. They can open your mail, pay your bills, manage your bank accounts, or run your business. Everything that you could have done, the appointed attorney can do for you. Of course, you can make the nomination as narrow or as broad as you choose. Be aware. A power of attorney is effective upon execution. Therefore it is important to always keep this document in a safe place only to be used and located by your agent.
Don’t’ forget your toiletries.
Toiletries on your trip are just as important as having a will. Your Last Will and Testament sets forth how and where your assets will be distributed, who will be nominated the personal representative of your estate, and if you have minor children, who will be nominated as the guardians of your minor children. Without a proper Will, your assets may pass through intestacy, in which the law dictates who inherits your property instead of you.
What about that swimsuit?
Granted some would prefer not to have one, but wouldn’t it be better for those swimming with you that did? Consider the need for your loved ones to know what your wishes are with regard to prolonging your life and who is better suited to make those decisions. The Health Care Surrogate designation is like the power of attorney, except that it allows you to designate someone to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are incapacitated. This is not about "end of life" decisions, but the more basic medical decisions that you may be unable to make on your own.
The Living Will contains your instructions, so that in the event that you are in an "end stage" condition, or a permanent vegetative state, you let your loved ones and caregivers know whether or not you wish to be kept artificially alive by machines, or to be removed from the machines and able to die with dignity.
Without a Durable Power of Attorney and Designation of Health Care Surrogate, if you become incapacitated, you might be subject to a "Guardianship." A Guardianship is a process in which the court appoints someone to make decisions for you. It can be extremely costly, and burdensome on you and your family.
Packing the necessary items can ensure an enjoyable vacation. Not packing properly could lead to a very stressful experience, not unlike the experience your loved ones will have with a probate administration. Remember we always provide a free half hour consultation to discuss all your options and affordable flat fees. Go to www.gerlinglawgroup.com for more information.
Contributing Editor: Ruth Pressier. Affordable Attorney, Gerling Law Group has been nominated for a fifth consecutive year by the Bradenton Herald as People’s Choice Favorite Attorney.