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Pensacola Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Probate, Guardianship Lawyer-Jennifer Lee Bushnell, Attorney at Law


The basic estate plan includes a Last Will and Testament, a Durable Power of Attorney for financial decisions and a Living Will and Health Care Surrogate Designation for medical decisions. You may also consider organ donation.

Why do I need a Will?  What is estate planning? 

Estate planning is preparing in advance for incapacity and end of life decisions.  By planning ahead, you will alleviate the burden on family members making these decisions for you if you fail to plan.  Estate planning may reduce the cost of probating your estate at your death or may be avoided altogether.  A properly executed power of attorney avoids costly guardianship proceedings.  Most important, you are in the driver’s seat and you can decide who will make decisions for you, how certain events will be handled and who gets your property when you are no longer here.

What is a Will? 
The Will is the centerpiece of any estate plan. A person may create a Will as early as the age of 18. A person has legal capacity if the person knows the nature and extent of his or her property, who are the natural objects of his or her property, understands the disposition which he or she is making of the property, appreciates these elements in relation to each other and forms an orderly desire as to the disposition of his or her property. A Will created for a person domiciled in the State of Florida must be signed with certain formalities in order to be valid and may only be altered by another written document signed with the same formality.

What is a Power of Attorney?
A General Durable Power of Attorney allows a person to choose an “attorney in fact” who will act as an agent to protect the individual’s property during any period of incapacity. The Durable Power of Attorney will allow the designated attorney in fact to access bank accounts to pay bills, to gain access to insurance information to contract for care that may be required and to do any other actions to handle the financial affairs of the incapacitated person.

What is a Living Will?  What is a Health Care Surrogate?  What is a Medical Power of Attorney?   
A Medical Power of Attorney appoints an “attorney in fact” to make medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person and other end stage decisions, such as whether to remove the person from life support, withhold nutrition or remove a feeding tube, etc. Typically, if a person will be removed from life support or nutrition is to be withheld, then at least two physicians must consent that it is in the best interest of the person to pursue that course of action.

Both Durable Powers of Attorney become effective immediately upon signing by the person giving authority to an attorney in fact. A Durable Power of Attorney is effective solely through a period of incapacity and during life, and when the person granting the power dies there is no valid authority to operate under the power of attorney. A valid Durable Power of Attorney will avoid the need and the cost of formal guardianship proceedings that may otherwise be required.

What is a revocable living trust?  Why do I need a living trust? 
A Trust can be created for certain specialized needs, such as property ownership in multiple states, tax planning purposes and in the event that you have children from a prior marriage and a current marriage and you want to provide for both.

What is a guardianship?
A Guardianship is necessary if incapacity occurs and no power of attorney has been appointed for an adult and a guardian for a minor may be required when the natural parent is no longer available to the child or the child receives a lump sum exceeding the statutory exemption requiring guardianship.  A guardianship may be entered into by an adult voluntarily or involuntarily.  A guardianship for a minor is implemented by a parent, relative or third party. 

My loved one has died, what do I do next? 
First, I am sorry for the loss of your loved one.  The list that follows can guide you through the next steps while you deal with the loss of a loved one: 
1.    Make funeral arrangements.  First, determine whether there was a prepaid funeral expenses policy in effect.  If the deceased served in the military, contact VA to determine eligibility for benefits at 800-827-1000 or  As a part of the funeral arrangements, I recommend that you order 2 death certificates with cause of death and 8 death certificates without cause of death.  Typically, you will need to provide a death certificate to each party who requests it in order to distribute those assets.
2.    Locate Original Estate Documents.  In Florida, you must deposit the will and any other relevant documents within ten days after being notified of the death.  I can assist you with properly depositing the will. 
3.    Contact Key People.  First, contact the personal representative, tax preparer and/or financial adviser, especially if IRAs are involved to determine a course of action.  You need to consider whether to contact an employer, social security and veteran's office to cease benefits, or other source of distribution since those payments that are made post-death may need to be returned. 
4.    Gather Important Documents.  The attorney handling your estate must have all of the estate documents, all paperwork that details the assets of the estate and all paperwork that details the creditors of the estate. 
5.    Avoid Making Big Financial Decisions.  If you have lost your spouse, avoid making any major financial decisions, such as selling a home or liquidating a financial portfolio.  Make a list of all debts that are owed and gather the documentation, but do not pay any bills other than those that your attorney advises that you may pay.  All other debts may be disputed and should remain unpaid until verified.  Consider filing a social security claim form if the deceased was 60 years of age or older.  Consider a spousal roll over for a 401(k) or IRA. 
6.    Insurance.  Inform the life insurance company of the death and request the necessary paperwork to claim the life insurance proceeds.  If you had health insurance benefits through an employer find out if you can retain those benefits.  Confirm coverage for last medical expenses.  Consider cancelling any policies, services or subscriptions that may no longer be necessary. 
7.    Update Your Own Estate Planning Documents and Accounts.  If you are affected by the death of your loved one, consider updating your own estate planning documents and change the beneficiaries designated on your life insurance policy, accounts and otherwise to reflect a new beneficiary designation. 

What is probate?
Probate is the process of administering the assets and liabilities of the estate of someone who has died.  The probate proceeding will only operate on the assets that are owned by the person who has died in his or her individual name.  Other assets will pass by operation of law or contract are non-probate assets and sometimes include life insurance policies and property owned as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.  In Florida, an attorney must represent the person who administers the estate; that person is called the personal representative.  By statute, a Florida lawyer may charge 3% of the assets of the estate as legal fees.  However, I offer flat rate fees for dispositions without administration and summary administration, and I will cap my fees at the 3% of estate assets for formal proceedings without litigation.  The personal representative basically has three roles to fulfill.  First, to marshall the assets of the estate, second, to pay any valid debts of the estate and finally, to distribute the estate to the beneficiaries. 

CALL ME at 850.466.2929 to schedule a consultation. 
Jennifer Lee Bushnell, Esquire
1803 W. Garden Street
(K Street and Garden Street)
Pensacola, FL 32502

Phone: 850.466.2929; Facsimile 1.866.466.9791

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