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Investor’s column: Here are five essential estate planning documents to consider

I have a physical checkup once a year to make sure I stay on the road to good health. My doctor says I’m doing fine.

I also have an estate checkup once a year to make sure I stay on the road to a good estate plan.

Unfortunately, there are many bumps on both roads.

With my attorney’s help, I feel the estate road is becoming less bumpy the more I learn.

As a former trust officer at two banks, I have seen no planning and detailed estate planning.

I recommend the detailed estate planning.

If you are moving to Florida to become a permanent resident, your out-of-state documents may be valid. Every state has its own rules. Some states want you to stay a resident of their state, because they may have a state inheritance tax to collect when you die.

These are complicated legal documents with many options to consider. Don’t do it yourself, but contact your attorney for advice.

Recently, I had my attorney review all of my estate documents. I asked many questions and learned a lot. We had a nice talk about what my attorney felt should be the minimum key estate documents.

It starts with these five documents.

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Jim Zientara is a financial planner with Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., in Lakewood Ranch.

Durable power of attorney

It can help protect your property if you become physically unable or mentally incompetent to handle financial matters.

The two types are immediate, which is effective immediately, or springing, which is not effective unless you become incapacitated or an event happens.

Advance medical directives

They let others know what medical treatment you would want, and may allow someone to make medical decisions for you in the event you can’t express your wishes.


Generally, if you are over 18, you should have a will. It disburses property to heirs after your death.

If you don’t leave a will, your estate will be divided according to state law, which might not be what you want. It also adds confusion in probate.

Your will can name the executor or personal representative who will manage and settle your estate. You can also name a legal guardian for minor children or dependents with special needs.

Letter of instruction

A letter of instruction is not a substitute for a will. It is an informal, non-legal document that goes with your will and is used to express your thoughts and preferences.

The letter could include your burial wishes, where to locate other documents, who should get what items, etc. The “letter” could also be a video of your wishes, sometimes done in the attorney’s office with witnesses.

Living revocable trust

A living revocable trust is a legal entity that is meant to function while you’re alive. You control the property in the trust as you wish.

Once you resign, become incompetent or die, then a successor trustee steps in to administer the trust.

My attorney says these five documents are the minimum to start your estate planning. There are many ways to optimize these documents to suit your needs.

Preferably, you should have a Florida attorney draft your documents. Generally, the ones to consider have titles such as estate planner, elder attorney, will and trust specialist, etc. Many legal practices have attorneys on their staff that are specialists in estate planning.

Starting the process of moving to Florida can be complicated. You may still have property or other items in another state. This can become confusing in situations involving property, taxes, estates, etc.

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Estate planning is the systematic approach to organizing your personal and financial affairs to deal with the possibility of mental incapacity or death. There are several planning documents to consider.

As an example, my attorney says my birth state of Indiana has a state inheritance tax. The top bracket is 20 percent of the estate. Even a $1 estate might get taxed at 1 percent, and Indiana may spend whatever it takes to get that 1 cent due in taxes.

There are many other documents to consider, such as living will, specific writing, spendthrift trust, etc.

I feel there is one optional document to consider. It is a living will.

A living will has details about not prolonging life, if death is eminent. My father had a living will written. Surrounded by his family in the hospital, the doctor pulled the plug and he died peacefully.

In the room next door, another man was dying. However, the family was divided. Some wanted to prolong his life in any way possible, while others wanted to let him peacefully pass on.

The shouting became so violent, the police were called and forced them out of the hospital. I wonder if that family ever got together again.

Choices are being made all the time. Sometimes, a choice is to do nothing.

I feel the better choice is to have an estate plan for your benefit and also for the benefit of your heirs.

Jim Zientara is a financial planner with Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. He can be reached at 941-750-6818 or visit His office is at 11009 Gatewood Dr., Suite 101, in Lakewood Ranch.

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