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You Need More Than A Will To Address All Of Your End Of Life Decisions

You Need More Than A Will To Address All Of Your End Of Life Decisions
May 18, 2021

Preparing a will is an excellent first step in the estate planning process. However, you need more than a will to cover all of your end of life decisions. There are many types of decisions and assets that must be addressed separately from a will to make sure they are handled according to your wishes. Below is a look at the shortcomings of a will and some of the legal documents that can help ensure that you are prepared for the future.

What are some important elements a will doesn't cover?

If you are overwhelmed by the prospect of preparing for end of life events, you are not alone. Only about 40 percent of American adults have a will. And, while having this important document in place may put you ahead of most Americans, a will alone will not ensure that all of your end of life wishes are met.  Here are some important elements that should be addressed separately from your will.

1) Health care directives / health care surrogate designation

The AARP states that, "Every adult should have an advance directive in which you explain the type of health care you do or do not want when you can't make your own decisions." Additionally, the group recommends that every adult should "appoint someone who can speak for you to make sure your wishes are carried out."  You will need special documentation outside your will to ensure that your wishes regarding your healthcare are carried out.

2) Funeral instructions

While you can certainly outline your funeral service wishes and burial instructions in a will, it's important to know that wills are often not read until days or weeks after a person passes away. This means that any funeral instructions included in a will may not be viewed until long after the person's funeral arrangements are over.

In fact, its even better to preplan for your final expenses by either buying a funeral life-insurance policy or prepaying with your funeral home of choice. This is an expense that someone is going ot have to bear, might as well get it taken care of now.

3) Gifts to pets

If you are among the 56 percent of Florida residents own pets, you may not be surprised to learn that many pet owners leave special care instructions and gifts to their pets. However, Florida law does not recognize pets as property owners, so leaving gifts to them in your will do little to ensure they benefit from your generosity.

What other estate planning documents you should have on file?

Should you become incapacitated or pass away, your loved ones will want to do everything they can to respect your wishes and preferences. You can help make this process easier for them by making sure you have the following documents prepared and stored in a safe location:

1) An advance directive 

An advance directive is a legal document that describes how you would like decisions about your medical care to be made if a physical or mental health condition prevents you from making medical decisions on your own and you are essentially at the end of your life. Do you want the doctors to do everything they can to save you, even if its extremely painful and even if there is very little or no likelihood of you having any quality of life after? Or, if the doctors and your health care surrogate agree, would you prefer to be kept out of pain and let go. This is also referred to as a “living will.” 

2) A Florida Living Will

"The Florida Living Will lets you state your wishes about health care in the event that you are in a persistent vegetative state, have an end-stage condition or develop a terminal condition. Your living will goes into effect when your physician determines that you have one of these conditions and can no longer make your own health care decisions." - National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) 

A Florida Living Will is the most common type of advance directive. Having this document in place prevents loved ones from having to decide whether to continue or cease life supporting measures. It must adhere to Florida Statutes Section 765.03 and be witnessed by multiple people, including one person who is not the person's spouse or blood relative.

3) Health Care Surrogate Designation

Think of this as your health care power of attorney, or health care POA. Who do you want making health care decisions if you are incapable of communicating your wishes (e.g. consenting to procedures, medications, accessing medical records, etc…)

4) A Do Not Resuscitate Form

Florida offers a universal "Do Not Resuscitate" form that can be used by nursing homes and all other health care providers. The form instructs providers to refrain from starting CPR if a patient's heart stops beating, or they stop breathing. Print on yellow paper.

4) A Pet Trust

Florida authorized the creation of pet trusts in 2002. Pet trusts are legal arrangements that help ensure a pet is cared for according to the grantor's wishes. Pet trusts provide a way for a trustee to hold cash or other property that the grantor wishes to be granted to the pet in the event of their disability or death.

5) A Letter of Last Instruction

A Letter of Last Instruction is a helpful document that can prove to be invaluable in the event of your death. In addition to covering wishes pertaining to funeral arrangements and distribution of death certificates, a Letter of Last Instruction is often used to convey locations of safety deposit boxes, tax information, personal papers, and other records.

What is the best way to ensure you cover all your end of life decisions?

The best way to ensure you cover all your end of life decisions is to reach out to a Florida lawyer who specializes in estate planning and elder law. With a trusted lawyer guiding you through the estate planning process, you can enjoy peace of mind knowing that any decisions made at the end of your life will reflect your wishes. Here are some ways an experienced lawyer can help you:

  • Make sure your will is comprehensive and accurately reflects your wishes
  • Confirm whether your end-of-life documents must be witnessed and/or notarized
  • Organize your documentation and ensure that it complies with current Florida law
  • Help update your will and end of life documents to reflect changes in your marital status or preferred beneficiaries

Ultimately, it's up to you to make sure you have planned for your future and have all your documents in a secure location. We are ready to help guide you through this process and invite you to schedule a consultation to begin discussing your estate plan.

Jason Neufeld is the Founder and Managing Partner of Elder Needs Law, a Florida estate planning and elder law firm he created in 2017. With more than 15 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including Medicaid planning, estate planning, elder law, probate, Medicare, and life insurance.

Jason received his Juris Doctor from the University of Miami — School of Law and is a member of the Florida Bar and the Broward County Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named a Rising Star and Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers and among the Florida Legal Elite by Florida Trend in 2024.

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