Top 20 Tips from 20 Years
(This Series is Like the Energizer® Bunny . . .)
It just “keeps on going and going and going!”
#17 – Get the Basic Legal Documents in Place: Here are the documents I see recommended by attorneys most often. For many situations, these documents are adequate for an individual’s estate planning needs. (There is a catch: you must be competent to execute these documents, so don’t wait until a diagnosis of dementia to have your documents prepared.)
1. Durable Power of Attorney gives another individual the authority to act on your behalf. Essentially, they become your financial and legal clone. They can pay your bills, open and close accounts, and execute legal documents. Be very careful who you choose to act in this capacity. Consider asking someone trustworthy to serve; financial and legal knowledge is a bonus.
2. Health Care Surrogate gives another individual the authority to make health care decisions for you when you are unable. Consider those who know you best for this role; someone with medical knowledge would be ideal.
3. Advanced Directive (“living will”) gives another individual the authority to end all life-extending care if you are in a “persistent, vegetative state” (your body is being kept alive by artificial means). Consider those closest to you; a resolute yet compassionate person would be a good choice.
4. Last Will and Testament is exactly what is what it sounds like; it is your last stated intent. Your will relays your wishes (including who your beneficiaries are, who you want to get what, and who you want to be in charge of the process) to the probate court in the county where you live.
5. Revocable Trusts can be created during your lifetime or at your death by your will. The trust creator (grantor) “grants” property to the trust for the trustee to hold according to the terms of the trust. The trustee is given the authority and responsibility to manage the assets during your lifetime and, for your heirs, after your death. Because these trusts are “revocable,” they can be amended or revoked during your lifetime (as long as you are competent).
Before I get a letter from the Florida Bar, please note that I am not an attorney and that my recommendations are made from a financial planner’s perspective. Next week: Why you should talk to your family about your estate plans.