When people hear that my practice specializes in estate planning, they sometimes ask if all my clients are elderly. I’m quick to note that while a good portion of our clients are indeed living their best golden years, people of all ages come to us for assistance with their estate planning—and for good reason, because estate planning is about so much more than what happens to your assets after death.
Let’s look at some common misperceptions about estate planning, to get to ground truth.
“Estate Planning only concerns things that happen after death.”
False! It’s not just about death. Planning for incapacity is a major component of modern estate plans, especially given that people are living longer. Anyone, regardless of their age or health status, should consider the following estate-planning tools, which could potentially be needed at any time in life.
- Designated healthcare surrogate: This allows you to name someone to receive health care information about you and make decisions or advocate on your behalf, should you become unable to do so. Examples: when someone is on life support, or under anesthesia, or has been deemed not competent to make informed decisions.
- Living will: This document specifically states which medical treatments you would, or would not, want to be used to keep you alive in an emergency situation. It also can stipulate preferences for other medical issues, including organ donation or pain management decisions. Having a living will in place is always a good idea, but an especially important thing to consider prior to a surgical procedure or major treatment regimen, such as cancer treatment.
- Designated preneed guardian: This document expresses a preference for a person, or persons, of your choice to take care of your person and property if you become incapacitated and unable to manage your own affairs. I file this document with the court to ensure that the court is aware of your preference in the event you are ever the subject of a guardianship proceeding.
- Trusts: Trusts differ from Wills in several ways, and therefore will likely be the subject of a future blog post. In short, though, many people are opting for trusts these days because a trust addresses incapacitation and not just death, allows the probate process to be bypassed, better protects the privacy of one’s assets, and allows for the distribution of assets over time.
“Estate Planning only involves creating a Will.”
Not true! While creating a will is an essential part of estate planning, it is not the only aspect. Estate planning results in the creation of a comprehensive plan that addresses various aspects of a person’s life, including their finances, guardians for minor children, healthcare, and end-of-life wishes. A comprehensive estate plan may also include trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives.
“I need to be rich to benefit from an estate plan.”
Absolutely not true! Everyone can benefit from an estate plan, regardless of their total assets value—and keep in mind that Florida statutes will dictate asset distributions for anyone without an estate plan on record. So, anyone whose wishes differ even slightly from what’s prescribed by statute should seriously consider consulting a competent estate planning attorney. Remember, it’s not just about distributing assets; estate plans also involve naming guardians for minor children, designating beneficiaries for retirement accounts, and establishing healthcare directives, none of which are tied to overall wealth.
“Estate planning is only for the elderly.”
Another misperception. Although it is true that older adults may have a greater need for estate planning, everyone over 18, regardless of their age and economic status, should seriously consider creating an estate plan. Accidents and unexpected illnesses can happen at any age, and having an estate plan in place can help ensure that a person’s wishes are carried out if they become incapacitated or pass away unexpectedly.
“I can just write my own Will.”
That’s actually true in Florida! But even those who prefer to write their own Will may still wish to consult with a qualified estate planning attorney. It’s a good idea to make sure that any self-created Will actually will achieve what its writer thinks it will, once Florida law is applied.
“If I’m married, I must include my spouse in the estate planning process.”
Untrue. Your estate plan is YOUR estate plan. Florida has no legal requirement that your plan mirrors that of your spouse; in fact, you aren’t even required to inform your spouse of the existence of your personal estate plan. However, most married couples do find it beneficial to work on a plan together, using the same estate planner.
I hope this has helped to dispel some common myths about estate planning. As always, we at the Matechik Law Firm are here to help ease the process of estate planning and establish better peace of mind.