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It’s that time of year again, when travel plans are made and gifts are bought … and for those handling the family finances, there are those end of the year planning considerations: things like finalizing charitable donations to be made for the 2011 taxable year.

Unfortunately, as a recent poll confirmed what many Florida probate lawyers and estate planning attorneys already know all too well:  Florida baby boomers (as well as those middle aged Americans in other parts of the country) usually don’t plan for and do not have valid End of Life documents in place.  Odds are high that in all this end of year planning, not many Floridians are being wise and including the creation of End of Life documentation on their lists of things to do before year end.

Who Are These Middle Aged Baby Boomers?

The media tends to label these folk “Midlifers,” meaning Americans born between 1946 and 1964, but most of us recognize them as Baby Boomers. According to, 4.6 million Baby Boomers already live in Florida. That’s giving Florida the rank of having the 4th highest Boomer population in the country.

Majority of People Are Ignoring This Need – Even After the Terri Schiavo Case Here in Florida

The poll also reveals that an astonishing 64% of this group do not have End of Life documentation prepared to help them and their loved ones in the event of a tragic, unforeseen event.

The numbers are even more shocking.  According to the poll, 70% of all Americans do NOT have these documents ready to go.

Seventy percent? From a probate lawyer’s take on things, this isn’t such a shocking number.  Even though estate planning attorneys are very aware of how risky it is to go through the day without having End of Life documentation in place, they also know that many, many people just don’t take the time and effort to get this done.

For Florida, the potential consequences of not having these legal documents in place are perhaps more well known than in other parts of the country.  It was here, in the State of Florida, that the worldwide controversy surrounding Terri Schiavo played out – where Mrs. Schiavo’s parents fought for almost a decade over whether or not Mrs. Schiavo’s husband would be legally allowed to remove her feeding tube after she suffered first a heart attack and thereafter brain damage leaving her with a medical diagnosis of “persistent vegetative state.”

If Terri Schiavo had had end of life documentation in place, then the long, long legal war with all its heart-wrenching impact upon all those who loved her would have been avoided.

If you were to have the unfortunate heart attack or car accident or other life-changing event that Terri Schiavo experienced, then your family would be facing the same legal void and vacuum that her loved ones did if you don’t have valid End of Life documentation prepared.  That’s the harsh reality here.

What are End of Life Documents?

End of Life documents are legally binding documents that must be prepared in accordance with state law in order to be valid.  In some instances, end of Life documentation drafted several years ago in Oregon, for example, may not be recognized as valid documentation by a Florida judge.  This is true, despite the recent changes to Florida’s probate statutes.

End of life documentation involves careful consideration of the current laws as well as moral issues and other personal considerations.  There are benefits and detriments to be considered in each of the options, something that needs careful thought as well as professional guidance.

In Florida, end of life documentation involves things like the following:

1. a Will – this is the legally binding document that will distribute your estate to your beneficiaries after your passing and is needed to protect your wishes; absent a valid Florida will, your property will be distributed according to the schedule set out by the Florida Legislature in the intestacy statutes.

2. a Health Care Surrogate – a document that explains what you want to have happen in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself or unable to make decisions regarding your health care.

3. a Living Will – this is a form of advance directive that gives instructions on how your medical care is to be decided in the event that you cannot make those decisions for yourself regarding end of life matters.  They can include things like a “do not resusitate” instruction.

4.  Durable Power of Attorney – this is another form of advance directive where you nominate the individual who can have the power to act on your behalf, in your stead, regarding legal choices, and/or financial decisions should you be unable to do so.

As part of your December 2011 year end planning and budgeting for 2012, perhaps it might be a good time to get your End of Life Documentation in order — or at least, placed on your Task List for 2012.

No one ever thinks that they will need these documents.  The sad truth is that all too often, all over Florida and the rest of the country, tragedies do happen and these End of Life documents are important and needed.

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