Most people think of estate planning as planning for death. However, a well-titled article “Planning for death probably isn’t the most important part of your estate plan” from Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press presents another reason for estate planning in clear terms. The most important part of estate planning is planning for the unexpected eventualities of life.
The Power of Attorney document states who will be your substitute decision maker, or agent, if you are incapacitated or unable to make your own decisions while still living. This should be a personalized document prepared by an estate planning attorney to include the scope of tasks and the limits, if any, you want to set for your agent. The financial POA is an important one, as it gives your chosen agent the legal authority to make financial decisions on your behalf.
The Health Care Surrogate Designation gives your agent the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf.
With both of these documents properly prepared and available, someone you name will be empowered to serve as your decision-maker if necessary.
The will is used to state what happens to your possessions and assets when you die. It is also the legal document used to name your personal representative—the person who will be in charge of carrying out your instructions. The will tells the probate court how you want your estate to be administered after death.
Why do you need these and other documents? You will only become effective after death. In Florida, your Power of Attorney is effective immediately. You should carefully consider who to name as your agent. They are both part of your estate plan, which is a collection of legal documents and has nothing to do with whether you reside in a palatial estate.
Here’s how it might work. If you become seriously ill and cannot speak on your own behalf, but you have a Power of Attorney naming your daughter Carol to serve as your Agent for financial decisions, Carol will be able to pay bills, including paying the mortgage, keeping your car lease up to date, and taking care of all of the financial aspects of your life. If she is also named as your Health Care Surrogate, she will be able to speak with your medical team, be involved in decisions about your course of care, and follow the wishes you’ve expressed in your documents.
If you die, and Carol has also been named your personal representative, she will be able to transition into this new role by representing you through the probate process. She will be able to work with your estate planning attorney to have your will filed with the court and follow your directions for distribution of your assets.
Having only a last will and testament would not protect you while you are living. Having only a Power of Attorney would not protect your wishes after you have died. All of these documents—and there are others not mentioned here—work together to protect you during life and after you’ve passed. Speak with your estate planning attorney in Davie, Florida for more information.
Reference: Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press (Aug. 29, 2022) “Planning for death probably isn’t the most important part of your estate plan”