August 10, 2013

Estate planning is probably not on your radar as your son or daughter prepares to head off to college. Although it seems unlikely that such planning would be necessary it is important to have a plan in place…just in case. Life is unpredictable. Unfortunately we are all too familiar with stories of car accidents involving college students tragically resulting death or serious injury.
In Florida and many other states, once a child reaches the age of 18, he or she is legally an adult and magically becomes responsible for making his or her own decisions. Although most parents are still very involved in their children’s lives, they no longer have legal authority to make decisions on their child’s behalf. This may pose a problem in the event the newly emancipated child is unable to act for himself and has not legally designated someone to act in his place. It is our firm’s opinion that most people should complete an estate plan which, at a minimum, includes a durable power of attorney, advance health care directive or living will, designation of health care surrogate, and a last will and testament.
For those who are unfamiliar with estate planning, following is a brief description of the documents in a basic estate plan. A durable power of attorney is a legal document in which you name a trusted person to be your “attorney in fact” or “agent” and give him the power or authority to handle certain business and/or financial matters in your place. A power of attorney is important as a means of avoiding the need for legal guardianship in the event you are unable to take care of your financial concerns, such as paying bills, etc.. Guardianship may be costly and cumbersome for your family. An advance health care directive or living will is a document in which you state that you do not desire life prolonging measures to be taken if you are in a persistent vegetative state, a terminal or end-stage condition with no hope or indication of recovery. The signing of this document helps diffuse arguments as to what your desires actually are or would be in such a situation. It is always a good idea to designate a health care surrogate which is the person you nominate to make decisions regarding your healthcare issues if you are unable to do so yourself. Once a person dies his Last Will and Testament states who is to receive your property upon your death. When a person dies without a will, he is said to be “intestate” and the Florida statutes state who will receive your property. The statutes provide for property to pass to the people most of our client’s desire to receive their property, but each situation is unique and you may wish for someone else, such as a friend, to receive your property.
For the same reasons it is important for older adults to have a least a minimal plan in place, it is important for late teens and early 20 year olds to have the same. At a minimum, young adults should have a power of attorney for financial and health care issues and an advance healthcare directive or living will. If a young adult becomes seriously injured his or her parents and family may not be able to make decisions about his or her care or even receive information regarding his or her condition and treatment. Having completed these recommended documents enables such stressful circumstances to proceed more smoothly and in a manner of your choosing.
Although most young adults do not own many assets making it necessary for them to have a sophisticated will, it is important to sit down and list the assets owned, how they are titled, and whether or not the desired beneficiary designations are in place. Assets for which a beneficiary is designated will pass to that person upon proof of the owner’s death without the need of a will or probate. If a person owns assets that will not pass via beneficiary designation, the signing of a last will and testament will enable the young adult to pass his or her property to whomever he desires as opposed to how Florida law dictates. According to Florida’s intestacy statutes if a person dies without a will and is unmarried and has no children, his or her property will pass to his or her parents in equal shares. That may not be the young adult’s desire especially if he or she has an estranged relationship with one or both parents.
It is important to note that estate planning involves more than just what happens to our property when we die, it includes making provisions for our care and assistance, both financially and physically, if we are unable to do so ourselves. Regardless of our age, circumstances may arise where we will need such assistance and it is prudent to plan in advance.
Please contact our office for an appointment to discuss your and your young adult’s estate planning needs.

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