COVID-19: Why four legal documents could put you at ease.
Stephen J. Lacey, Guest columnist Florida Today
Without question, the Covid-19 outbreak has caused many of us to not only reflect on our lives, but also speculate and fret over our future.
Respectfully, everyone has formed their individual opinions on the severity of the situation and the economic repercussions we will incur as a result of this pandemic. Despite our individual feelings, Covid-19 is a reminder that anything can happen at any time, even if you are feeling healthy today.
So, what are the critical legal documents needed during a crisis such as this? Here are the essential basics: Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, Health Care Surrogate, and a Living Will.
What does each of these documents do?
The Last Will and Testament acts as a book of instruction, directing your personal representative as to how to distribute your assets once you pass away. The caveat to the Last Will and Testament is probate, but more on that later.
The next essential document needed is Power of Attorney. The power of attorney allows your chosen agent to act on your behalf legally and financially if you cannot.
The Health Care Surrogate permits your agent to make health care decisions for you if you are incapable of doing so.
The Living Will is the final crucial document. Many regard this document as the “pull the plug” document. Basically, if two doctors certify that you are in a vegetative state and hope of improvement is futile, this document authorizes the doctors to stop further medical measures to keep you alive.
Now, circling back to the problem associated with a basic will — probate. Probate is the judicial process in which the will is required to be “proven” in a court of law and accepted as a legitimate public document that is the last true testament of the deceased. This can be a tedious, expensive and time-consuming process.
How can we avoid probate?
The answer is a trust. Often, an assumption is made that trusts are only necessary or advantageous for the multi-millionaire club, this is absolutely false.
A trust has several advantages for anyone with assets they want to protect. A trust allows your loved ones to bypass probate and create a more efficient transfer of your assets when you pass away. A trust gives you the ability to title your assets in the name of the trust. That simply means that instead of your individual name attached to your assets, your assets will fall under the name of the trust; therefore, avoiding probate.
What happens if I don’t have these documents?
If you do not legally choose your decision-makers prior to becoming incapacitated, then the court will choose for you in a guardianship proceeding. A guardianship proceeding is a very expensive process, as there are two attorneys involved, one to represent the alleged incapacitated individual and one to represent the proposed guardian.
Also, a medical determination is required to establish that you are incapacitated. Therefore, $10,000 to $15,000 may be necessary from your assets in order to empower someone to make your decisions for you. This alone should turn your stomach. With the above documents in place, the chances of needing a guardianship greatly diminish and allow you to choose who your decision maker will be.
Fortunately, there are progressive law firms offering video conferencing, allowing individuals, family members, and groups from the safety of their homes to conduct meetings from various locations to establish and execute these fundamental documents. The advantage of video conferencing is that regardless of where family members of significant others reside, whether it be across the state or across the world, everyone can participate in the meeting.
As we ride out this uncertain and unsettling time together, I sincerely encourage you to stay safe and take care of yourself. I think we are all looking forward to some normalcy.