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Estate planning: Health care directives pattern state law

People may tend to confuse a health care proxy with a living will. They are two different legal instruments in estate planning that produce two distinctly separate outcomes. Each state, including Florida, will have statutory rules that define the requirements of each of these, but in general most states will achieve the same outcome with little real deviation.

Both of these tools deal with the issue of medical treatment and services for the individual who makes them out and signs them. That person, in the case of a health care proxy, designates someone else, usually a trusted relative or friend, to make medical decisions on his or her behalf if the person is incompetent or otherwise disqualified from being able to speak for oneself. Of course, this type of arrangement works best if the designated spokesperson and the maker of the instrument discuss the maker's intentions and medical preferences while the maker is fully competent and lucid.

Elder law planning is necessary for post-retirement years

Studies pertaining to Florida and nationwide indicate surprisingly that cognitive decline regarding sound financial decisions may begin to occur when one is in his or her 30s. It may not be noticeable, but the gradual toll may occur over the next several decades and may lead to a point where it is to some degree noticeable. Researchers have discovered that persons in their 70s, 80s and beyond can be capable of keeping up with the more basic tasks, such as paying bills, the mortgage and conducting most or all everyday living tasks. For these reasons, some preliminary elder law planning can help in meeting any future challenges.

Although taking care of bank accounts, basic light shopping, paying bills and the like may be perfectly manageable for most healthy people, there are some older persons who may become disabled or incompetent to handle most or all of their necessary tasks. The durable power of attorney will have been prepared when the will and other estate planning documents are done. This provides for a trusted family member, friend or institution to manage one's daily and long-term financial tasks during an incapacity.

Estate planning can provide for emergency situations after death

The benefits of estate planning for Florida residents cannot be overstated. In some instances, tax burdens can be reduced. Probate fees may be lowered or even eliminated. Importantly, the empowerment that one derives from having prepared an estate planning framework for precisely how things will work after death is usually very gratifying.

The gratification pertains mainly to knowing that one's heirs will be treated just like one would want it to happen. There are no false paths or lost inheritances that one has to worry about from the prospect of having the state's laws dictate how one's assets will be distributed. The feeling of empowerment and peace of mind can be enhanced even greater by doing some very specific "micro estate planning," as one financial planning expert puts it.

Why you need to review your estate plan regularly

Creating an estate plan can give you a sense of accomplishment. If you made a plan years ago, you may feel there is no need to revisit it. However, it is crucial to take another look at those dusty old documents in your safe deposit box. 

You should review your estate plan regularly–at least once every five years and whenever anything significant changes in your life or family. Here are some core reasons why you should dust off that old binder and make some adjustments to your will.

Estate planning includes selecting agents and surrogates

Making an estate plan in Florida and elsewhere includes the task of choosing a number of agents and surrogates who are called upon to make decisions and take action on one's behalf when incapacitated or after death. The persons appointed within the potential scope of estate planning can include an agent under a power of attorney or a health care power, trustees, executors, beneficiaries under various accounts, legal instruments and insurance policies, in addition to other surrogates. One problem that arises is the appointment of persons simply because they are family members.

Although family members may be the best choice in many instances, at the same time it is unwise to appoint someone who does not have the skills necessary to carry out future responsibilities. Another problem that occurs is the appointment of surrogates and agents who may end up having overlapping duties and powers. When more than one person has the authority to act on the same subject matter, confusion and even chaos can arise.

Estate planning myths are easily deflated by getting the facts

Estate planning is an important task for most Florida residents, although many of them do not get around to starting or completing that task. The process is designed to protect one's assets while alive, provide for financial survival if one becomes incapacitated, and to distribute assets to the desired loved ones and/or organizations upon death. Other benefits of estate planning include health care proxies and powers that make it easier for one's health care to be directed by a loved one and for instructions to medical providers.

Some common myths regarding persist and influence people who may be considering estate planning. One myth is that it is all right to put off the process until later in life. Actually, some important benefits can be appreciated by early planning. For example, a married couple can provide for the financial and personal care of their minor children if an unexpected tragedy occurs. Although thinking about such an eventuality is offensive and fearful to most of us, nonetheless if it happened it would be a greater problem with no will and no provisions for a guardian of the children.

Old protocols preclude medical cannabis from Veterans' benefits

Florida has a large population of military veterans. When Veterans' benefits become a part of the public discourse, there is usually wide interest among this state's former military members. Sometimes, however, legislation is proposed that helps the public in general but neglects addressing the special needs of veterans.

One such bill, the States Act, was introduced in the U.S. Congress recently. It protects the public from federal intervention in each state's right to independently regulate the research and use of medical cannabis. The bill is receiving bipartisan support; it would protect millions of citizens from federal prosecution under the Controlled Substances Act. It does not, however,  mention the nine million veterans who rely on the federal Veterans' Health Administration for medical services.

Estate planning for military families

Estate planning is important for everyone nearing retirement age or looking to prepare for the final decades of life. However, as part of a military family, there are special considerations to take into account when making arrangements for your future asset distribution.

It is essential to plan ahead for your post-military life in retirement, as well as your end-of-life wishes in terms of elder law. A comprehensive estate plan includes all of these factors. Here are some particular issues to keep in mind as you head toward military retirement and beyond.

Estate planning regarding the family home can prevent discord

A majority of Americans, including here in Florida, do not have a will or basic estate planning essentials. Part of the reason is the apparent urban legend that says estate planning is solely for those wealthy individuals who have substantial assets. Many people, however, forget about their family home, which can be a significant asset if the mortgage is paid down or paid off. In that event, estate planning can prevent the common discord that sometimes occurs between heirs after the parent or family member dies.

Checking accounts, investment accounts and the like have a clarity about them that makes them subject to an equal division among the heirs, at least in many cases. The home, however, usually ends up being the focus of any dissension in the family that may exist when the owner dies without estate planning. Therefore, when one meets with an estate planning attorney, one topic of importance will be what happens to the house when the owner dies.

Elder law planning allows for control over post-retirement years

Elder law planning in Florida is a vital concern to most persons approaching their retirement years. It is a subject that is best addressed as early as possible. Adequate advance planning can allow for maximum protection against a less-than-optimal experience in one's later years. To have the most control over one's life and to assure that the most trusted family members or friends are given authority in the event of incapacity, elder law planning is the best way to prepare.

Elder law planning will prepare for potential periods of disability or illness that may entail an incapacity to act on one's behalf. In that event, the individual will want to assure that he or she may stay in the family home for as long as possible. This can be done by advance planning in cooperation with an elder law attorney and, if necessary, with the assistance of a qualified financial planning expert. Family members can participate in devising a plan to suit in-home care if it becomes necessary. 

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