Well, there’s no getting around it. Election day is fast approaching, and, in less than one month, we’ll all be making one of the most important choices of the year. No matter who you’re voting for, it’s important to get out there and make sure that your voice is heard. Many states have early and mail-in voting, and, of course, you can vote in person, too.
Elections aren’t the only events in life that require tough choices. Some of the most difficult phases of and events in our lives require serious decisions. The key is to make sure you always have a plan, no matter what. In this article, we’ll talk about three major life events and the legal documents they involve.
Death is inevitable, and though you might not live on, your assets will. You have a few options when it comes to asset (money, property, possessions, etc.) distribution. Two of the main ones are last will and testaments and trusts.
A last will and testament is the estate planning tool with which most of the population is familiar. This document lays out how you want your assets distributed after you die. A will must be authenticated in probate court before the wishes enshrined in it can be executed.
For a will to be authentic in Florida, there are a few requirements. First, the testator (person writing the will) must be at least eighteen years old. Second, he or she must be of sound mind. Third, he or she must sign the will. Fourth, there must be two competent witnesses, and fifth, the will cannot be “holographic” (handwritten). There are certain exceptions/tweaks to the third and fourth requirements, but those five are the basic must-haves.
A trust, by contrast, goes into effect immediately, not just when you die. A trust is a three-party relationship. You (the grantor) sign title to your asset(s) over to a third party (the trustee). Then, upon your direction—or when you die—the trustee turns over the asset(s) to the person you intended as the recipient all along. This recipient is called the beneficiary.
Divorce can shake up your estate plan. Revisit your estate plan after the divorce is finalized. There are certain documents, such as healthcare proxy, power of attorney, and any trust beneficiaries, that require updating if you are divorcing your spouse. Even if the divorce is amicable, you will need to make changes.
You might still want to leave your spouse something, which is your right, divorced or not. Check your prenuptial and/or postnuptial agreements, as well as your state’s laws, to see what can and cannot be altered in your estate plan.
There are some documents you might not be able to change during the divorce. In some states, you cannot change beneficiary designations for life insurance, 401(k) plans, pensions, and similar accounts until after the divorce has been finalized.
The bottom line is this: divorce means you have a lot to do to ensure that your estate plan reflects your wishes accurately.
While divorce requires you to update and correct, sickness (and old age) require even more proactive action. It’s best to complete certain documents, like a living will, power of attorney, and guardianship papers before something happens.
A living will, in contrast to a last will and testament, goes into effect while you are still living. This legal document contains directions for your medical care. If you are too sick or incapacitated to tell doctors and nurses what you want, the medical staff can refer to this document for assistance. Examples of items included in a living will are preferences for pain management, DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), and organ donation. The living will tends to reflect the patient’s values and spiritual or religious views.
A power of attorney is a trusted individual that you appoint to manage your financial and/or medical affairs if you’re unable to do so yourself. This person is usually a spouse, family member, or trusted friend.
Guardianship papers are important for those with minor children. These documents designate who will take custody of your dependents in the event of your death or incapacitation.
Though life is always going to be fraught with surprises, some good and some bad, having a solid plan will alleviate stress and allow you to face difficulties head-on. Talk to an estate planning attorney today about how to safeguard yourself and your loved ones, and learn more about asset protection.
And don’t forget to vote!