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Legal Zoom or Lawyer?

Legal Zoom or lawyer?

One of the best consultations I have ever had with clients went as follows:

Mr. and Mrs. Martin came to see me to inquire about what sort of planning they should do since they are now retired. They were concerned about long term care costs and what they could do to plan for care if and when it was needed. We reviewed their current situation, the home was paid for, they had recently sold their business, and Mr. Martin had just been diagnosed with treatable cancer.

The consultation allowed them the opportunity to think through who they could name to pay their bills and manage their money if they were unable to do so. It provided the opportunity to review which of their children could navigate the health care system, converse with health care providers and insurers, and would truly take the time to understand when “enough is enough” with their treatment. It helped the two of them talk frankly about how much they were willing to spend on “staying in the home” before they would consider moving to an assisted living or nursing home without impoverishing the well spouse. Legal documents were drafted and signed stating their wishes and then a full family conference was coordinated in my office to review the legal plan and care desires with all of the children present.

While the legal documents fully state their wishes and authorizations, the key to completing the documents appropriately was the consultation, conversations regarding options with plenty of time for questions and answers, and guidance in how the long term care system works. I was so proud of this couple for taking the time to think through their fears, wishes, and concerns and to make the decisions they needed to make.

One of the most difficult conversations to have with a family is telling them they have no legal authority to pay Mom’s bills and to access her financial accounts to take care of her because she never completed any legal documents to provide them legal authority to help her. And then have to state that their next step is to go to court and seek legal guardianship over Mom, thus removing all of her rights. It’s even worse to tell them how easy and inexpensive it would have been to prevent this situation from occurring.

The Florida Durable Power of Attorney statute allows each of us to appoint an Agent to manage our financial affairs. It is a big decision to determine who you would like to name as your Agent. The Agent is allowed to manage your bank accounts, savings accounts, stocks, brokerage accounts, and your real property and has authority to do whatever you authorize in the Durable Power of Attorney.

Choosing your Agent is the most important decision. Who is the person who will actually pay your bills on time, help you manage your home, get repairs done, and manage your accounts to ensure you will be able to pay for everything? Naming a child who has financial issues, has not been able to hold down a job, or has filed bankruptcy may not be the best choice. Your lawyer will help you review your choices for your Agent, and help you determine who is the most appropriate for you to name.  If you do not have anyone to name, the lawyer can suggest a professional Agent for consideration. The consultation reviewing selecting an Agent and then determining what authority to include in your Power of Attorney is the value you receive when meeting with a lawyer versus completing a document online. Do you want your Agent to be able to make gifts? To others? To themselves? These are just a few of the questions your lawyer will ask you.

Did you know that the State of Florida has named a Health Care Surrogate Proxy to make health care decisions for you in case you didn’t name one yourself? Your Health Care Surrogate provides medical informed consent for accepting or denying treatment. You can designate in your Health Care Surrogate document who should make your medical decisions, what decisions you would like made and authorize your doctor to disclose your protected health information (PHI) to your surrogate. In the ever changing world of health care it is vital for you to name someone to be your surrogate that will take the time to understand your wishes and manage your care with the professionals you have chosen.

“Terri Schiavo” is the only name you need to say in Florida to understand why you want to sign a Living Will and state your end of life choices. Thinking through how you want to experience your “end of life” is not cocktail conversation. Understanding how the medical system works and interacts with the legal system is important for you to know when deciding what treatment you may or may not want. What is even more important is to ensure your loved ones know what you want and that they will support your decisions.

A Will determines what happens to your property upon your death. Many folks try to avoid probate by using “POD” payable on death accounts recommended to them by the friendly bank customer service agent. While this sometimes works, it often presents a quandary for the Agent under the Durable Power of Attorney when determining which funds to utilize to pay your bills. For example, should they pay the bills out of the POD account for their sister, or should they pay the bills out of the POD account for them?  This is not a situation you want to put your family into.

Often Trusts are utilized to state how you want your money to be spent if you become incapacitated as well as how you want it distributed upon your death. If you have a beneficiary with special needs, a mental health issue, an addiction, or perhaps someone who just can’t manage money, you can set up parameters within the trust to ensure the funds are protected and managed within your guidelines.

Join me on Tuesday, March 1 for our free workshop “Legal Documents Everyone Must Have.” 

We will review how to prepare for your legal consult, decisions to think through prior to meeting with your attorney, and how to “choose” the best person to name on your documents. A Free Tool “Questions you must ask your Attorney” will be provided to all attendees. You will not want to miss. Limited to first 20 attendees.

Call 727-447-5845 today to reserve your seat.

Please share your best/worst Legal Zoom or lawyer story with me and send to Linda(at) I look forward to hearing from you.

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