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The Five Key Legal Documents Every Adult Should Have

July 6, 2016 in News

The Five Key Legal Documents Every Adult Should Have

By Tracy A. Zanco, Esq.

According to many surveys, a majority of Americans do not have any estate planning documents in place. Some people think they are unnecessary and some people intend to have them drafted, but never quite get around to doing it. Here is a list of the five documents that everyone 18 years or older should have in place as part of an estate plan. Depending on an individual’s particular needs, additional documents may also be helpful.

  1. Last Will and Testament. This document controls the disposition of your probate property at your death. By having a Will in place you can determine how to allocate your property instead of relying on the default distributions set forth in Florida’s Intestacy Statute. In your Will, you can designate a person or persons to handle your probate estate. You can also create a testamentary trust to manage a portion of your estate after your death; these trusts are often drafted if minor children are named as beneficiaries. Additionally, you can designate a guardian for your minor children in your Will.
  2. Durable Power of Attorney. A durable power of attorney is a legal document in which you delegate authority to another person, who is called your agent or attorney-in-fact. Your agent is then authorized to act on your behalf and may perform all of the acts set forth in the document. The agent’s authority typically includes the authority to conduct transactions involving your property, especially your finances. In Florida, the document is effective immediately upon signing and survives your incapacity.
  3. Designation of Health Care Surrogate. This document is a type of advance directive in which you name someone to make health care decisions for you. You can restrict the scope of your surrogate’s authority. This document should include HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) language, so that your surrogate can access your medical records.
  4. Living Will. The Living Will is another advance directive in which you instruct medical providers about your wishes for treatment at the end of your life.
  5. Declaration Naming Preneed Guardian. This document allows you to name someone to act as your guardian should you ever need one. It is also an opportunity to exclude someone from serving as your guardian.

Although it is easy to procrastinate when it comes to estate planning, having these documents in place can help you avoid guardianship and other court intervention. Best of all, it will give you and your loved ones great peace of mind, while helping to ensure that your wishes are honored.


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