From estate to tax planning, Medicare set-up to trusts, it’s not easy for an elderly person to fully grasp the ins-and-outs, benefits and drawbacks of various planning measures.
A Durable Power of Attorney — This document names an agent who can handle your financial and legal affairs and remains in effect even after incapacity.
A Living Will — This document includes directions regarding long term life support measures that you want or do not want to receive if you are unable to communicate your directives.
Health Care Surrogate — This document names a representative who will make medical decisions for you and obtain medical records when you will not be able to make them yourself.
Wills & Trusts
The foundation of an estate plan is often a will and trust. Adult children with aging parents in Florida may want to ask whether these documents are up-to-date. Wills and trusts are the best way to reduce family conflict by clearly expressing final wishes.
A living trust, which may be a vehicle to avoid probate.
A special needs trust that makes sure a gift does not make the beneficiary ineligible for government benefits.
An irrevocable trust for asset protection.
Let’s say you’ve been in a serious car accident. Would you want to be kept alive by artificial means? How would anyone know what you would choose? A living will spells out your wishes on such matters, so there is no doubt. This important document gives family members and doctors a guideline to follow in the event you cannot communicate with them.
A living will contains your directions for the type of medical care you wish to receive (or not receive) should you become incapable of making or expressing your desires. The living will addresses care for terminal and end-stage conditions, as well as conditions resulting in a permanent vegetative state. Additional care instructions can also be added.
Health Care Surrogate
The Healthcare Surrogate document, sometimes called a healthcare power of attorney, authorizes someone to discuss your healthcare and treatments with medical professionals if you are in a condition where you cannot speak for yourself. This person can ask for, or refuse, treatments, access your medical records, hire/fire medical personnel, and make decisions about which medical facilities are best for you. You can also designate an alternate should your first choice not be willing, able or reasonably available.
Healthcare Surrogate documents can be worded so they take effect right away, or only after your primary physician determines you are unable to make these decisions on your own. But generally speaking, Florida statutes dictate that as long as you have capacity, your instructions will supersede any choices made by the healthcare surrogate. Think about it this way: You have total control of the healthcare decision-making as long as you are able, and the healthcare surrogate steps in and out as deemed necessary.
Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney is a legal document that gives specific, or wide-ranging, control of some aspect of your life and property to someone else. You, as the “grantor,” are granting power to one or more persons, who are known as your “agents” or “attorneys-in-fact.” That transfer of power is immediate; right after the document is legally completed. In other words, you don’t have to be deemed incompetent for your agents to act. So you want to be sure the person or persons named have your best interests in mind now and in the future. You can name one person as your attorney-in-fact with one or more backups, or you can decide that two or more persons can act as your agents either independently or jointly. It’s best to talk these options over with an attorney who works predominantly in estate planning, so you understand all the options that fit your situation.
Special Needs Planning
When you want to leave a gift to a child, family member or close friend who suffers from a disability, you must be careful. Listing someone with special needs as a beneficiary on a 401(k) or insurance policy is particularly problematic. A large lump-sum gift could disqualify the individual from continuing to receive Supplemental Security Income and/or Medicaid benefits. The individual is also unlikely to know how to handle a large sum of money.