As the effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic continue to create uncertainty, an attorney from Tampa Palms spoke recently about the value of using estate planning to help reduce anxiety.
Myrna Serrano Setty, of the law firm Myrna Serrano Setty PA, shared her expertise during a WOW-TOO Zoom meeting, arranged by the North Tampa Bay Chamber, on Aug. 19.
“I know that you’ve probably seen some of these infographics in recent months, tips that are out there from therapists and counselors, about reducing our COVID anxiety. I feel like our nation is still coming to grips with a new normal,” said Setty, who also plans to open an office in Lutz, in September.
“My perspective for you today is not coming from a place of fear and doom and gloom. It’s more of a way of reassuring you, with some ideas for things that you can control, through some of the tools that we have in estate planning.
“Focus on the things you can control. Lean on the right people to get that help and get that guidance,” said Setty, whose practice helps families with estate planning, probate, elder law and guardianship cases.
There are tangible ways to make sure that if you’re in a health crisis, the right people are informed and the right people are in charge, she said.
It’s possible to designate someone to be authorized to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf, if that becomes necessary, to be sure the bills are paid, legal issues are addressed and so on, she added.
By planning now, she said, “we can make the best of a hard situation.”
She offered those taking part in the Zoom meeting some food for thought.
For instance, she asked those listening: “Who are your health care decision-makers?
“In Florida, we’re able to legally document who our health care decision-makers are — and what those decisions should be in those end-of-life situations — by using tools like a designation of health care surrogate and a living will,” she said.
A designated health care decision-maker can act on your behalf when there’s an emergency and doctors don’t think you’re going to get any better, and there’s a choice to keep you on life support or withdraw your care, Setty said.
It is important to keep those documents up-to-date and to make sure the person you have designated is still the person you prefer, and that he or she remains capable and willing to act on your behalf.
Another document that’s helpful is a durable power of attorney, Setty said.
That document allows someone you know and trust to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf.
“One of the ideas that’s out there that’s a myth is that if you sign a power of attorney that you are losing your power. That’s not true,” Setty said.
Choose that person wisely, she said, but added that you always have the power to change or revoke it.
The durable power of attorney can be especially helpful if someone has elderly parents, who need help in managing their finances, she said.
Setty said that parents should consider legally naming guardians for their children.
As a parent of two young girls, herself, she said: “I want to have that peace of knowing that if something happened to me and my husband, that I’ve already legally named the people that I want to be able to raise my girls and take care of them.
“It’s a big gift for your family to have those things settled,” she added.
“You’re able to legally nominate guardians for your kids in a will, or a stand-alone document that is filed with the court,” she said.
Be sure documents are up-to-date
Setty also encouraged the audience to be sure to organize their documents, so that they’re easy to find, and up-to-date, in case someone needs to intervene.
Be sure the beneficiaries you have on any policies or accounts match up with your current desires, she said. They also should be compatible with the intentions outlined in your will, she added.
“Getting a handle now, on who is on your life insurance, or who’s on a bank account, that’s going to make a big difference during an emergency,” she said. “If you get really sick, or something worse happens, you don’t want your family to have to sift through all of that.”
Reviewing these documents also can help you to catch things, and make corrections or take necessary actions, she said.
“I can’t tell you how many cases I’ve had when someone comes in and they thought they were on the house with their husband and they weren’t. That can have huge consequences, financially and otherwise,” she said.
Setty also explained the differences between a will and a trust.
“A will I think of as kind of like a roadmap, as to who gets what, if you pass away.
“A trust is a way for you to manage money, or a property for someone else’s benefit.
“I think of it like a bucket. Whoever is holding the handle of that bucket — they’re the trustee, and the stuff you put inside is things like accounts, or other properties for someone else’s benefit.
“The reason they should be updated is because, over time, your life changes, your relationship changes, your planning goals might change and also the people that you want to put in charge, change.
“We want to make sure that these types of things change, as we change. So, that when they have to be used, they’re really helping. They’re helping our family. They’re really fitting our situation,” she said.
She also touched on the topic of probate.
“Through your lifetime, you’ve made sacrifices and you’ve acquired things. Some of those things can automatically pass to your family, if you were to pass away.
“And, some things don’t. They have to pass through the court system.
“I think of probate as kind of like a highway that can have mandatory stops, and sometimes twists and turns that we don’t expect.
“If we have a will, it directs who is supposed to inherit at the end. Some things go through probate, some things don’t.
“For example, life insurance or a retirement account, those things can pass to our family members or other people we have chosen as beneficiaries through beneficiary designations. But, other things like real estate or certain bank accounts, they do have to go through the court system,” she said.
“My role is to guide you as to what to expect,” she said. “When we do a good job planning, things are just more smooth for everyone.”
Published September 02, 2020