Estate Planning 101: Three Documents Everyone Should Have Right Now

SMRL Law Firm serving Sarasota County, Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch, North Port, Venice, & throughout the state of Florida


Nancy Cason

My life changed forever last year when I received the dreaded call there was an awful automobile accident and the vehicle looked like my husband’s. I arrived on the scene in time to see the emergency medical helicopter land in the middle of University Boulevard at which time my unconscious husband was flown to a trauma hospital. Upon arrival, the hospital staff asked my father-in-law if either of us had a health care directive, to which he responded, “His wife is an attorney so I am sure she has that.” Wrong — I had nothing.

I was very fortunate that my Husband survived, is on the mend, and that his family and I agreed on all medical decisions that needed to be made. However, often times, especially in situations with multiple siblings and/or marriages, family members may not always see eye to eye. The last thing any family needs to face in the ICU is a debate between siblings and/or spouses over what emergency medical treatment should be rendered and who is entitled to make the final decision.

It is important that everyone, married or single, children or not, have at least the following three basic estate planning documents:

(1) a Health Care Proxy and Living Will;

(2) a Durable Power of Attorney; and,

(3) a Will.

The purpose of the Health Care Proxy is to have a directive in place as to who can make health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. The Health Proxy should also include a Living Will provision which dictates under what circumstances, if any, life sustaining treatment should be terminated. With a Health Care Proxy and Living Will in place, the party you designate has the authority to make those decisions.

The Durable Power of Attorney should be given to your most trusted confidant so that in the event you are incapacitated, the designee has the ability to handle your financial affairs as same may be necessary to pay for medical treatment and other necessities.

Finally, everyone should at least a basic Will that designates a personal representative to administer your estate, your desire for burial instructions, the beneficiaries of your estate and how you desire assets to be divided among beneficiaries. It is especially imperative for those with children to designate a guardian for the children in case the unthinkable happens, such as a simultaneous death of the parents in a common tragedy.

The truth is, tragedy can strike anyone at any time. With these three basic documents in place, you can rest assured that if tragedy strikes you or your family, the documentation is in place for you and your loved ones to effectively handle an emergency situation.