About Wills, Living Wills & Powers of Attorney

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About Wills, Living Wills, and Powers of Attorney

Why do I need a will?

A will permits you to leave legally binding instructions for how things are to be handled for you after you die. A will gives you great flexibility in determining how your property and other assets are distributed after death. Without a will, your assets will be distributed according to a default plan set up in the Florida Statutes for people who don't have a will. By creating a will, you can divide your assets however you like. You can leave property to children and grandchildren in equal or unequal shares. You can choose to leave nothing to someone (disinherit them) if you wish. You can also leave property or cash to non-family members and to your favorite charities. You can specify that particular property be given to particular people, such as leaving your daughter your grandmother's china and leaving your son your baseball card collection. In the will you also name the person you wish to manage the affairs of your estate after you die.

A will is also extremely important if you have minor children. You can use a will to specify who will take care of them should both parents die before the children reach age 18. You can name a separate person to manage money on behalf of the children until they reach age 18, or some later age if you wish. In the will you can also leave specific instructions for details like whether you wish to donate your organs to help others, or whether you wish to have your body buried or cremated.

I don't have anything. Why do I need a will?

You could leave distribution of your estate dependent upon Florida law. However, consider for a moment that your death may be caused by the negligence of another. Imagine that you won the Florida Lottery. There are many reasons that your estate could be worth a great deal of money when you die, even though you don't believe it to be likely now. The cost of preparing a will is so small that we believe it is well worth it to have a will.

What information do I need to gather for a will?

First, you need the names of two people who you would like to serve as your primary and successor Personal Representative. The Personal Representative is the person in charge of handling your affairs after your death. The Personal Representative must be over 18 and, if not a family member, must be a Florida resident. You should have a first choice person, and then someone to serve as personal representative in the event the first choice cannot. If you have minor children, you also need to know who you would like to be the guardian of the children in the event you die before the children reach majority. If you die leaving minor children, any property you leave to them will be placed in trust until they reach age 18, and you must name a trustee to control that property. The trustee does not have to be the same person as the guardian, although it usually is. Finally, you need to have some idea of what your estate is worth and how you want it divided after your death.

Where are original wills kept? Are they filed with the Court?

People sometimes think that a will is a public document, or that if they need to locate a relative's will, they can get it from the courthouse. This is not correct. Your will is a private document. When you leave our office, you take with you your original will and as many copies of it as you need. It is up to you to keep your original will in a safe place such as a safety deposit box, a home safe, or some other place where you keep your important papers such as life insurance policies. We recommend that you give a copy of your will to the person you designate as the personal representative and that you also give copies to your children or other heirs and ask them to keep the will with their important papers. We will also keep a copy in our files. Upon your death, the personal representative must file the original will with the Clerk of the Probate Court, and only then does it become a public record.

What is a living will? Why do I need one?

A living will is a legal document directed to doctors and hospitals. In a living will, you explain what you would like to have happen if you are critically injured and cannot speak for yourself. For most people, the living will is an expression of their desire not to be kept alive by machines when they would die naturally if those machines were turned off. Living wills are widely recognized in the United States and in Florida. Most doctors will ask you if you have a living will when you first see them and most hospitals will ask you if you have a living will when you are admitted for treatment. Expressing your desire not to be kept alive by artificial means can save your doctors and family members a great deal of pain and heartache should they ever be placed in the terrible position of having to decide whether to turn off life support machines and allow you to pass away at peace.

How does a Power of Attorney work?

A power of attorney is a written document which allows another person to legally act on your behalf. Powers of attorney can be specific and limited to certain things, or they can be general. For example, if you live out of state but own property in Florida, you can issue a power of attorney to a Florida resident to allow them to sell the property on your behalf. A power of attorney would allow the person given the power to sign a sales contract on your behalf. More common are general powers of attorney, which are usually signed by an older person to go give their spouse or child the ability to manage their affairs. A general power of attorney allows the person with the power to open or close bank accounts, buy or sell stock, and otherwise do anything legally on behalf of the grantor of the power.