By Kara Schickowski, Esq.
Estate planning and advance directive documents don’t usually cross a person’s mind until something traumatic happens to herself or a loved one. But putting documents such as a Last Will and Testament, Designation of Healthcare Surrogate, Living Will and Financial Power of Attorney in place in advance is an essential step for everyone, no matter one’s age, health, familial status or life situation. And with the current COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals are wondering what documents should be prepared to protect themselves in a worst case scenario.
“I don’t have anything, so why would I need a Will?”
Everyone has something of value. Otherwise, why would you have it? Just because an asset or personal property might not have great financial value, it certainly may have sentimental value to loved ones. So it’s important to let the world (and the court!) know who should inherit your belongings after you are gone. Also, your situation now may look vastly different in five or ten years. What if you inherit from a long lost relative or win big in the lottery? Wills may be written to include whatever property you have at that exact moment in time and all that you may accumulate throughout your lifetime.
A Will is about more than just property.
So while everyone has “stuff” to distribute when they are gone, a Will also puts other important measures in place. Through a Will, a person can make his “last wishes” known like cremation versus burial or scattering ashes out in the ocean or laid to rest in a family cemetery. It’s also important to choose a trusted Personal Representative (also known as an “executor”) to make sure those last wishes are carried out and to wrap up your affairs when you’re gone. A Will can also make decisions regarding minor children: designating a guardian, putting property in trust for their future care, etc.
And it’s more than just writing a Last Will and Testament….
When most people think of planning for the future, the one document that is thought of is a Last Will and Testament which, among other things (as mentioned above), allows a person to make property distributions upon death (“who gets what when I’m gone”). By completing other Advance Directive documents, a person can also put medical and financial measures in place during her lifetime and in the event of an emergency.
We can’t plan for everything, but advance directives certainly help!
By drafting a Designation of Healthcare Surrogate, a person is able to choose a trusted friend or family member to make medical decisions on her behalf in the event she is ever unable to. A Designation of Healthcare Surrogate lets a doctor know in advance who you trust to step into your shoes and make those important medical decisions if you are ever incapacitated. A Living Will will also alert a medical team in advance of your wishes regarding the removal of “life prolonging procedures” such as feeding tubes, respirators, etc. A Durable Power of Attorney may also legally designate another person to act as your agent in financial matters. These documents will speak for you if you are ever physically or mentally unable to speak for yourself.
Age and health don’t matter; EVERYONE needs to have a plan in place!
You know how it is…not a cloud in the sky, so you leave the house without an umbrella. But sure enough, an afternoon rain shower pops up and you are left soggy and unhappy. Not to say that these documents will prevent an emergency from happening, but it’s always best to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. An emergency can happen to anyone at any time. You’d be amazed at what a relief one can feel once you have the comfort of legal documents in place to handle your wishes upon incapacity or even death.
Additional information regarding all of the above documents, including suggested forms for some, may be found on the Florida Bar “Consumer Information and Pamphlets” page: www.floridabar.org/public/consumer.
Kara Schickowski has been an attorney at Legal Aid Service of Broward County since October 2007, managing the Ryan White-funded HIV Law Project where she counsels clients and prepares documents in various areas of law including advance directives and estate planning. She also supervises the HIV Age Positively Legal Advocacy Program and manages the Rainbow Justice Project. Kara actively engages with the community by serving on several Broward County HIV Planning Council committees and participating in national, state, and local community events. Her interest in serving the community and ultimate decision to attend law school was fostered by her undergraduate position at the University as the first Project Coordinator at the University of Miami Law HOPE Public Interest Resource Center. Receiving Fellowships while attending the Shepard Broad College of Law at Nova Southeastern University allowed her to follow her passion for public interest law and intern at Legal Aid in the same unit she now manages. Kara is a member of the Broward Bar Association, Florida Bar, United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States.