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Less than half of Americans have a last will and testament

In a survey done in 2012 by a legal website, it was indicated that only about 41% of members of the "baby-boom" generation have a will. Reportedly, even smaller numbers of individuals belonging to younger generations have an estate plan. Due to the high number of retirees in Flordia, these numbers have an even larger impact than in other states. According to people in the estate-planning field, there are several legal documents that people should secure sooner rather than later.

The single most important document every adult should have may be a last will and testament. Whether one's estate consists of millions of dollars in securities and real estate, or a collection of knickknacks with sentimental value, it is important that one dictate how such items will be distributed upon one's death. If a person dies without a will, state intestacy statutes will decide who will get the contents of the estate. In Florida, this means that if there is no spouse, then children first, and if there are no children, then the deceased person's parents. In the case no parents are alive, then a more distant relative, or finally, the state itself, will be the beneficiary. This can be avoided by executing a valid will, and being very specific about how one's assets are to be distributed.

Further, it is very important to specify who one wishes to be the guardian of minor children, and provide for how they are to be taken care of. It is also advisable to make arrangements for burial or cremation, perhaps even paying for such services now, as costs generally rise over time.

Other documents that are essential to consider are a power of attorney, and a "living will," or advanced directive and healthcare proxy. A power of attorney designates a trusted individual to oversee one's financial matters in case one is incapacitated. A living will is important, because it can specify what medical interventions one wishes to take place, and a healthcare proxy will name an individual to make medical decisions if one cannot make them oneself. It is likely a good idea to have only one person at a time responsible for such decisions, as it will minimize the likelihood of litigation in case of disagreements. Overcoming the fear of thinking about one's own death and planning for the possibility is a mature decision, and one that will pay dividends for one's family and loved-ones.

Source: Florida Today, "Five legal matters you should address now," Brit Kennerly, Aug. 15, 2014

Source: Florida Today, "Five legal matters you should address now," Brit Kennerly, Aug. 15, 2014

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