Written by: Attorney Amelia J. Strom
In our day to day lives, taking care of ourselves and our loved ones is a priority, so why shouldn’t that be a priority when we are no longer able to do so? Estate planning is the process whereby a person can, during his or her life, prepare and execute various documents so that in the event of their incapacity or death, they have a plan for how their estate and assets are managed by the individuals they have designated to make decisions for them. Too often estate planning can be thought of to be unnecessary because someone is too young, or because someone already owns their property jointly with their spouse, or because they already have a will even though it was executed several years ago. While these are valid thoughts, there are some rather large holes in these arguments against not having an estate plan.
Almost no one is too young to start working on their estate planning. One requirement of having the capacity to sign a will in Florida is that the signor must be at least eighteen years old. Therefore, any competent person over eighteen is able to execute a last will and testament and other estate planning documents for themselves. Young adults are part of the work force and are able to start saving for themselves very early. With that also comes the right to have a say in who their estate should be distributed to in the instance of their passing by executing a last will and testament and/or other estate planning documents. If they do not do this, then their probate estate will likely be distributed pursuant to the default intestacy provisions of Florida law. Additionally, the dynamic of a young adult’s life can change very quickly. A twenty something year-old may get married and have one or more children in the matter of just a few years. I argue that it can be even more important for that young adult to have an estate plan because their family from one year to the next can look completely different. By executing and keeping current his or her estate planning documents, that young adult can ensure that their loved ones are cared for if something happens to them such as incapacity or death.
It is important that a person’s estate planning stay current with their life’s changes. Someone may have had their estate planning done several years ago, but people’s lives are ever evolving, and at any point in time, any event could change someone’s perspective on how they want their estate plan to be handled. Such events could include moving to a new city or state, a new baby being born, a new marriage, a divorce, or a death. Any of these events could drastically affect the distribution of their assets in the event of their death through their will. Further, when someone signs estate planning documents, often they are not only executing a will, but they are also executing a durable power of attorney, a living will, and/or a heath care surrogate, to name a few. These documents and others are important to the estate planning process because they allow the signor to preemptively designate certain people in their lives to act as representatives for certain types of decisions on their behalf. If someone has previously executed one of these documents and the person that was designated as the representative has passed away, has fallen out of touch, or for any other reason is no longer appropriate to serve in that capacity, then those documents should be revisited and updated. Ultimately, if a person has had estate planning done in the past, but hasn’t revisited or reviewed it recently, it may be a good idea to do so.
Moreover, one may think that they do not need an estate plan because they already own all of their property jointly with their spouse. While the ownership of property in this way is an important safeguard, it does not take into consideration many different things including what would happen after their spouse passes away or if for some reason both spouses were to pass away simultaneously. It is impossible to know which partner will pass away first, so it is important to plan ahead by drafting wills that have a backup plan in place that addresses each survival scenario and all asset ownership scenarios. Further, if the surviving spouse does not have a valid will at the time of his or her death, then the probate assets of the surviving spouse’s estate will be distributed pursuant to the intestate statutes of Florida law, which may not be what they would have wanted. Having a valid and effective will in place for both spouses is an important safeguard against such distribution.
For questions and assistance about your current living will or how to start your own, please contact one of our estate planning, trust, and probate attorneys today.