Estate Planning and Advance Directives: Hoping for the Best while Planning for the Worst
5 reasons why completing estate planning and advance directive documents should be on everyone’s list of New Year’s Resolutions
By Kara Schickowski, Esq.
Estate planning and advance directive documents don’t usually cross a person’s mind until something traumatic happens to themselves 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. With the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals are wondering what documents should be prepared to protect themselves in a worst case scenario. Here are five quick reasons why everyone should consider having their estate planning and advance directive documents prepared (or updated!) in the new year.
“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
About Kara Schickowski
Kara Schickowski is the supervising attorney and program manager for HIV Law projects and LGBTQ+ advocacy programs at Legal Aid Service of Broward County, Inc. Since 2005, she has provided direct legal services to clients with their advance directives and estate plans, served on various local and regional HIV and LGBTQ+ committees, and presented to the community on a variety of legal and social justice topics. She has served on the Broward County HIV Planning Council Priority Setting and Resource Allocation Committee since 2009 and was a member of the Steering Committee for the Florida LGBTQ Legal Aid Summit.She most recently developed an AIDS Educational Training Center enduring learning module: “Legal Services in the HIV Care Continuum: How Incorporating Legal Services into a client’s care plan may improve health outcomes” for Florida HIV Case Managers, and presented at the 2021 Florida Conference on Aging on special legal topics and barriers to care for Florida’s LGBTQ+ senior community and those aging with HIV. She was a panelist on the recent Florida CLE “Alphabet Soup: LGBTQ+ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) for the Family Law Practitioner” and created/presented the program “Achieving Rainbow Justice: Special Legal Topics for the Broward LGBTQ+ Community” for the Broward County Library speaker series.
A graduate of the University of Miami and the Shepard Broad College of Law at Nova Southeastern University, 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.