Death Dinners, Part II: The Importance of Estate Planning

As we talked about last time, Death Dinners are growing in popularity, and we think they are a fabulous idea. It’s a way to “break the ice” when talking to your loved ones about your estate plan. Talking about death over dinner may not seem appetizing, but this idea came about because so many people avoid talking about the most unpleasant and certain event in life – and avoiding estate planning can cause chaos among surviving family members when someone dies.
It’s helpful to understand some basics about estate planning. A last will and testament or simply, a “will,” is the document that sets forth one’s wishes regarding assets and heirs following death. For those with minor children, a will addresses very important issues including the naming of a guardian to raise the kids and a trustee to manage their money until they reach the age at which they can own property without strings attached.
A living trust is commonly used as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, a will. Generally, trusts are more complex and expensive to create. One common motive for using a trust is to avoid the legal process of probate. Estate plans should not be considered “off the rack” purchases and should be carefully tailored to meet the needs of the family according to all their specific circumstances and budgetary concerns.
Frequently confused with a last will and testament is the “living will.” The living will is a much narrower document delegating the right to make hard end of life decisions such as to “pull the plug” and discontinue life support under certain circumstances when there is no reasonable hope of recovery. Similar to a living will, but for conditions not reaching that level of severity, we use a “health care surrogate” or “advanced healthcare directive.” A power of attorney may cover many situations as narrowly or broadly as desired when a person wants to delegate the authority to make a variety of decisions. In Florida, a power of attorney can no longer be considered “springing,” meaning it would take effect after a determination of incapacity.
Though these documents are important and useful for virtually anyone, unmarried couples should take special note of the need to spell out their wishes, as the legal protections of marriage do not apply.
At Barrister Law Firm, we urge all families to confront the reality of death and serious disability while its members remain alive and healthy, even if it takes a Death Dinner to accomplish this important task. And remember, for your Death Dinner be sure to bring all of the legal names, addresses and contact information for anyone you want to include in your estate plan.We welcome feedback from our clients and the public as to how we can help spread the gospel of preparation and add value to this important discussion.

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