Should you give copies of your Will and other estate planning documents to your children and to the Personal Representatives of your estate?

 For some people, their estate planning documents are as private as their income tax returns, and nobody is ever given copies.  For other people, estate planning documents are no different than a spare key to the house, and every family member and Personal Representative and/or trustee named in the documents are given a copy.

 If you are the type of person who values your privacy, who does not especially trust your children, Personal Representative, or trustee, or if you have written a Will or trust which does not treat all the children equally, then it may not be a good idea to hand out copies.  Also, you may have more money than your children expect, and depending on how your Will or trust is written, giving them a copy may be letting them know too much about your personal business.

 On the other hand, if you have a fairly open relationship with all your children, you regularly discuss finances with them, and you are leaving your estate to them in equal shares, then go ahead and give everyone a copy.  Of course, if you decide to change your Will or revocable trust, you should be sure to give all the same people copies of the new documents.  If you don’t, then there may be some arguments following your death over which document controls the disposition of your estate.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

The best place to keep signed original estate planning documents

The best place is probably in a safe deposit box because it will protect the documents from theft, fire, accidental loss, and most other types of damage or harm.  A potential problem, though, is getting it opened after your death. 

 If you decide to keep your estate planning documents in a safe deposit box, consider naming a family member or your Personal Representative or trustee as a joint holder on the box.  That should simplify matters following your death because someone will be able to get into the box without delay.

 Another place to keep your original estate planning documents is with the attorney who drafted them.  However, I have decided not to retain original documents because of concern over theft, fire, flood, storms, or other loss of the document.  It would also be prohibitively expensive to store hundreds or thousands of original documents.  Also, what would happen if I were to die or my law firm was to cease operations?

Many people keep their original estate planning documents at home in a secure place.  If you have a safe at home, that can be a good place to keep them.  Be aware though, when thieves enter your home and discover a locked safe, they often take the whole safe thinking they’ll find cash and jewelry.  The last thing they want is a file containing your estate planning documents, but that’s one of the things they’ll get if you keep them in your safe.  Therefore, unless your safe is bolted to the foundation of your house, it may not be the best place to keep your originals.

More people than you would expect keep original Wills and other estate planning documents in an air-tight plastic bag at the bottom of their freezers.  Freezers are well insulated and heavy and have a way of withstanding fires, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Also, they don’t die or move away, and they are stolen far less frequently than in-home safes.

Most importantly, make sure your designated representative knows where they are!

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Do You Have a Will?

A Will is the primary legal document for determining how your assets will be distributed and what would happen to your minor children on your death.  But you can’t just place your Will in a fire safe box and forget about it:  Review and update it regularly to reflect changes in your personal circumstances as well as other events. 

For instance, you might add to or subtract from the list of beneficiaries, possibly because of births of children and grandchildren and marriages or divorces of family members.  Or, you might want to replace the Personal Representative (Executor) you initially named in the Will.  Also, your Will may need to be amended if and when significant tax reforms are passed.

And remember, don’t wait until it’s too last.  You will no longer be able to change your Will if you are suffering from a disability that affects your thinking, such as a stroke or dementia.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Do You Have a Living Will?

Clients come to my office to talk with me about planning for incapacity and death.  These are hard conversations to have, even in an elder law attorney’s office.

Of all the documents that I prepare, the Living Will, gives my clients the most trouble.

This document, a dying declaration, states what kind of end-of-life care you want when there is no medical probability of recovery.  Most people do not want to be kept alive artificially.

But what does that mean?  Do you want a feeding tube?  Hydration?  Blood transfusion?  How far are you willing to go?  And what about dementia?  Do you want to be force fed when you no longer have hunger or the ability to feed yourself?

And who should be your advocates or decisions makers?  A family member (who might not be willing to let you go) or a medical person that you trust?

Knowing your legal rights and putting them in writing will help ensure that your wishes are met.

An elder law attorney can help guide you through this difficult conversation.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

How to Dispose of your Personal Property When you Pass

Florida law permits the use of a separate writing referred to in a Will to dispose of tangible personal property if it is not otherwise mentioned in the Will. The separate writing must be signed and dated by the maker of the Will and must describe the items with certainty- think “my diamond ring with 2 side rubies”.

The writing does not need to be witnessed or notarized and may be prepared after the execution of the Will. It can be changed, but it’s a good idea to resign and re-date the new writing so there is no confusion as to your intent. The most recent writing will be deemed to revoke any prior writing.

There is no prescribed form for this writing- some lawyers provided sample forms, but you could use any paper-even the back of an envelope!
Tangible personal property does not include cash, bank accounts or real estate. A separate writing is commonly used for jewelry, art, or sentimental items of value to you or your loved ones.

While a separate writing can be altered or revoked by marking through the entry and then re-signing and re-dating, never do this on a Will or Trust. Codicils or amendments to your Trust must be made with the same formalities as the original instruments.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Keeping Digital Assets in the Family

Nowadays, many of us have “digital assets”.  Digital assets include Bitcoin, blogs that earn income, reward points for credit cards or airlines, and those with sentimental value such as digital photographs and social media.

To make sure that these important files can be passed on to your heirs, you need to take certain steps.

First, make a digital asset inventory.  Second, ensure your spouse, heirs, or representatives can access them.

You can have a password manager on your computer or smart phone for these devices.  But federal privacy laws may prohibit others from accessing your account.

Some companies such as Google and Facebook now have settings where you can name a person who will take over your account after your passing. 

For other accounts, you should have an up to date Will, Trust, and Durable Power of Attorney which specifically permits your designated agent to access these accounts.  Florida is one of the states which now has a Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets statutes which governs and enforces these documents.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

AFTER THE DEATH OF A SPOUSE

After a spouse has died, it can seem impossible to focus on the details, let alone make important decisions.  Here is a list of what should not be delayed:

  • Connect with attorneys, accountants, and financial advisors
  • Secure your finances – most importantly find out what assets are immediately available to you
  • File paperwork to claim insurance proceeds and retirement funds
  • Locate the Will and/or Trust

Later on, focus on:

  • Estate administration- are there are tax returns to file?  Is a probate needed?
  • Analyze assets and cash flow needs – take a closer look at the full picture of assets available presently and in the future.  Have you inherited IRA’s?  Should a new investment adviser be consulted? 
  • Do you need to update your own estate plan?  Have you updated your beneficiary designations on your IRA’s and life insurance?

As you move from short to long-term considerations, take the time you need to make these important decisions and create your own team of investment and legal advisors.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

END OF LIFE OPTIONS

One of the services that I offer my clients is a Living Will. This document is a legal declaration of what type of care your wish to have if you are in the end stage of life and there is no medical probability of recovery.

Many of my clients struggle with this document-typically it is because they cannot decide whether they would want a feeding tube or artificial hydration at the end stage.

Here are some common myths that contribute to this difficult decision along with the response of Tani Bahti, nurse:

Myth: If people don’t eat, they should get a feeding tube or they will starve to death.

The needs of the body and its ability to process food changes in the final months of life.  People do not die because they are not eating, but rather they do not eat because they are dying.  Complications due to forced feeding and the use of tube feedings can actually hasten dying. 

Myth: Not drinking leads to painful dehydration.

Natural dehydration is comfortable and releases endorphins which promote comfort. Unlike in a healthy person, providing artificial fluids near the end of life may actually increase discomfort.  Natural dehydration results in less chance of nausea and vomiting, swelling, and lung congestion.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

The Role of an Estate Planning Attorney

Planning for end of life is a difficult but necessary process.  Part of this planning is the creation of a legally binding estate plan that dictates your wishes and appoints certain people with the responsibility of carrying out those wishes.

Using an experienced estate planning attorney is advised. The attorney can walk you through the process from start to finish, prepare the documents, and make sure that the documents are properly executed.

Another advantage of using a professional estate planning attorney is to ensure that your real estate and other assets are properly titled to be certain that legal title is clear and assets can be transferred to your selected beneficiaries. This process can include advising on deeds, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, and marital settlement agreements after divorce.

An experienced estate planning attorney can also advise you on other end-of-life choices, such as financial and medical directives, organ donation, disposition of remains, and similarly important decisions. Without an estate planning attorney’s assistance, you may find yourself setting your family up for more hardship as the result of poor planning.

An attorney can also advise clients about how to best provide for beneficiaries with special needs, educational requirements, or other considerations. The attorney can also create a plan for meeting philanthropic goals and include charities or other organizations in your estate plan.

Planning ahead is important for everyone, no matter how large or small the estate. Using an experienced estate planning attorney will ensure that your plans can be carried out.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.


Many of us tend to procrastinate about making hard decisions.  Unfortunately, with estate planning and elder care, this can have dire consequences.

Recently, an 80 year old lady came to see me about doing her Will.  She was clear in her mind about who she wanted to leave her money to when she died and who should take care of her finances if she became too ill.  And, she knew what kind of care she wanted if she could no longer live alone.

I was hired to do a basic Estate Plan for her – Will, Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Directive, and Living Will.  I prepared the documents and called her to come in to sign.  No Answer.  Next day, No Answer.

It turns out my client had a stroke and was unlikely to recover.  She had no legal documents in place to authorize any of her children to handle her finances or make decisions regarding health care.  The children could not agree, and a guardianship case was opened in court while my client remained in the hospital unable to communicate.

This is an all too familiar story in my Elder Law practice.

Why do people procrastinate about these important planning tools?  It’s simple:

  • No one wants to think about mental incapacity or death.
  • No one likes to pay attorney fees.
  • No one likes to expose their personal life to another person, even an attorney.
  • No one wants to give a child the authority to “put them in a home”.
  • Sometimes it’s not easy to decide how to divide your estate.

It’s wise to start your estate planning early.  Here are some top reasons:

  • The top reason, of course, is my 80 year old client.  You might lose your ability to sign documents.
  • Like my client, you might lose your ability to communicate your wishes to your family or doctors.
  • Keep harmony among family members – my client’s children could not agree what to do – they went to court!
  • You might need someone to handle your finances if you cannot.

After watching my client and many others like her, I know how important it is to plan ahead.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Contact Us

Port Orange Office:
Prestige Executive Center
823 Dunlawton Ave. Unit C
Port Orange, FL 32129
Local: 386.256.4882
Toll Free: 877.447.4667
New Smyrna Beach Office:
629 N. Dixie HWY
New Smyrna Beach, FL 32168
Local: 386.256.4882
Toll Free: 877.447.4667