by Attorney Itasca
1. A Will and Power of Attorney. Wills are not just for rich people; they are for every adult in my opinion. They are especially important for parents because wills are the best way to appoint a legal guardian for children. Ideally, a will should complement and reinforce a trust (more on that next), but the will is a most basic necessity for making sure your final wishes are clear. Laws regarding wills vary from state-to-state and evolve over time, so the will you prepared ten years ago with your aunt who is a paralegal in Texas is probably no longer serving you. Even wills you have already executed need to be revisited on an annual basis.
A power of attorney has little to do with attorneys, other than that an attorney can help you get one. A POA appoints someone to act as you if you become incapacitated, but not after you die. A POA gives power to someone to access to your financial accounts to pay your bills, file taxes on your behalf, manage or sell any property you have, and apply for benefits like Medicaid or Social Security Disability on your behalf.
2. A Trust. You may have heard people talk about “avoiding” probate. If all you have is a will, and you own real property, not appropriately titled, there is no avoiding it. Probate proceedings are time consuming and expensive, but of course by that time, it won’t be your problem. A judge first has to decide if the will is valid – was it signed by the right number of witnesses? Did your second cousin Eugene show up to court with a second (but different) will that he says you signed more recently? What did you mean when you said that your grandmother’s china dishes go to your daughter when two sets of china dishes are found in your cabinet? Instead, especially for the “big-ticket” items, use a trust. The trust acts like a make-believe storage unit that you put certain property into now, while you’re still living, and handing someone the key. You can still get things in and out of it while you’re living, but the person won’t have to go to court to use their key after you’ve passed.
Be warned against adding people to titles as co-owners in an effort to avoid the probate process. Suppose you decide to co-own your home with your adult child so that they can just own it outright when you pass away. Then, your adult child is successfully sued for a large sum of money. Now, a lien can attach to the home since your child co-owns it. And you’re not even finished living in it yet! Or, suppose you add your second husband to the deed of your home, but want your kids from your first marriage to have the home eventually. In some instances, your second husband may be entitled to the home upon your death no matter what your will says, and may have no obligation to leave it to your first-marriage children. A trust can solve problems like these.
3. A Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney. Also known as an advance directive, this document spells out the kinds of medical intervention you want should you become unable to give those directions yourself. This can be a daunting and emotional exercise, but leaving medical decisions to even the best-intentioned loved ones can lead to conflict and resentment – and there is still no guarantee they would make the decisions that you’d have them make. Still, present you cannot always predict the situations in which future you might find herself, medically speaking. It is prudent to also appoint someone as a decision-maker in those moments with a medical POA. That person may need to be someone who is not so close to you that they’d be unable to follow your wishes in difficult moments.
4. A prenuptial agreement, postnuptial agreement (it’s not too late!). Student loans and other debts are reason enough to draft yourself a prenuptial (meaning, before marriage) agreement or a postnuptial (after marriage) agreement as to who will assume those debts if the marriage ends. Such agreements are also wise if either party comes into the marriage with any significant asset like a house, or where there is a significant salary difference. In Florida, for example, if you acquire a home during your marriage, it becomes the marital property of both you and your spouse, even if you the two of you are disproportionately contributing to mortgage payments. If this doesn’t feel fair for you, consider a pre- or postnuptial agreement. And even if you don’t have significant debts or assets when you move in together, maybe it would be wise to put in writing who will be taking care of any puppies acquired during the relationship (or apartment carpet cleaning fees) should you part ways with your cohabitant.
5. Your own savings account. OK, this isn’t a document, but it’s a must-have for women. There is no need for your savings account to be a secret; it should be something to be discussed openly between you and your partner. As of the writing of this article, it is 2019. You can open a savings account that yields some interest with little more than your smartphone. Even though a savings account opened and maintained during a marriage is marital property, there is no reason for a modern woman such as yourself not to be able to independently access money. Money. Is. Freedom. How much you need to feel free is up to you. Putting aside money means giving your future self the generous gift of choice.
I cannot stress the importance of having a basic estate plan in place. When you’re ready to take your legal and financial destiny into your own hands, feel free to reach out to me! Contact me, Attorney Itasca Greagor: 352-354-2445, or visit: firstname.lastname@example.org, to schedule your appointment.