The sadly high illness and death toll of the novel coronavirus has forced everyone, even young and healthy people, to think about their end-of-life legal documents.
Hopefully you won’t need to use them for years. But in my experience, it is better to be overprepared than caught off guard without having all the legal documents you need.
Do you have a valid will that reflects your current desires? Do you have a living will that lays out whether you want to be kept alive mechanically if your brain function has ceased? And have you designated a healthcare surrogate?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, think about how you can get to yes.
The Three Important Documents Everyone Should Have
- Last Will and Testament
According to a recent online survey, the majority of Americans don’t have a will. This is a mistake for most people; should you unexpectedly pass away the laws of the state, rather than your own wishes, will determine where your assets go. In addition to how you want your money and property distributed, a will also documents who should become the legal guardian of any minor children you may have.
If you have created a will in the past, take a few moments to read through it now to be sure it still reflects your desires. And if you moved from a different state to Florida after the will was created, you’ll need to check that it conforms with Florida law. (Updating an old but valid will can easily be done with an attachment known as a “codicil.”)
- Living Will
Most of us have ideas of what kind of treatment we want—or don’t want—at the end of our life. A living will (not to be confused with a last will and testament, aka a will–see my prior blog on the misconceptions) tells your physician whether you want aggressive end-of-life care and life support if you are unable to convey those wishes. If you’d rather not remain on a breathing machine for months or years after your brain stops functioning, for example, a living will is the document where you express those wishes.
My firm also offers another document, which is not legally binding but helpful for people to consider about their end of life. Called My Last Emotional Wishes, this free downloadable 4-page form allows you to share how you want your final days with your loved ones to unfold. You can find the form at the bottom of the home page of our website.
- Healthcare Power of Attorney
Doctors typically turn to a spouse or, if you’re not married, a living parent, to make important medical decisions should you become incapacitated. But what if you’d prefer someone else? A healthcare power of attorney appoints the person you want to fill that role.
It’s important to select someone you know will carry out your wishes, which may conflict with the wishes of other relatives or friends. Someone who keeps their cool under pressure is of course ideal.
Why DIY Wills Are Never a Good Idea
Lately there have been many ads on Facebook and other social media sites touting programs for you to make your own will. But I want to emphatically state that doing your own will is not a good idea, and I don’t say that simply because I am an attorney who drafts wills.
In too many instances I have been given wills to probate that were created by people on their own that turned out to have serious problems. Since those mistakes are rarely caught until the will is needed and the person is already deceased, the errors cannot be corrected. Instead, in some cases the court has declared the will invalid.
As a longtime probate lawyer in South Florida, I’ve seen problems with who the deceased named as their personal representative, since Florida law is very specific about who can and cannot serve in this position. Often people doing their own wills don’t take into consideration assets not passed to heirs by a will, like a bank account already in one child’s name or a life insurance policy that names another.
Then there are typos, which are more common in DIY wills than you would think. An article in Forbes magazine documented some errors in homemade wills: Someone left “200.000” to his sister, inserting a period where there should have been a comma, which set off a battle among the family about how much she deserved. Another forgot to change the “insert name here” space-filler to an actual name, so no one knew who he meant to leave that money to.
Finally, the execution of a will must be perfect. Courts have and will toss those that aren’t, such as not having two witnesses who sign the will in one another’s presence.
Lawyers Are Essential Businesses, Working During This Time
For documents that are so important for your family and friends, will want to have a will, living will, and healthcare power of attorney that is drafted by a professional.
Fortunately, most law practices and the Florida courts are still operating during the coronavirus crisis. Many, like my own firm, are working from home to keep the staff as safe as possible. But all work is being completed as usual.
If you’d like to discuss your need for any or all of these crucial documents, I hope you’ll give our office a call.
Have the Law Office of Gary M. Landau by your side. The Law Office of Gary Landau is located in Coral Springs, Florida, and is rated 10 out of 10 by the legal website AVVO. For more information or a free phone consultation for your probate and real estate legal matters, call 954-979-6566 or email us. Attorney Gary Landau personally returns all calls to him.
Law Office of Gary M. Landau P.A.
7401 Wiles Road, Suite 204
Coral Springs, FL 33067
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