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We are pleased to provide a glossary of commonly used legal terms.

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Designation of Healthcare Surrogate: You can designate a trusted adult to make healthcare decisions for you when you are incapacitated. Incapacity can be temporary or permanent, due to physical or mental illness or cognitive impairment. The surrogate makes medical decisions during any period of incapacity not just end-of-life issues. You may avoid a legal guardianship by having this legal document.

Durable Power of Attorney: You can designate a trusted individual to make financial decisions for you, when you are incapacitated for example: write checks; make or change investments; sign tax returns; sell or lease real estate. It may help you avoid guardianship.

Estate Planning: A process by which a person, with the assistance of an attorney, designs a strategy and has documents prepared to conserve, protect, and distribute estate assets before and after death for the benefit of loved ones, taking into consideration the effect of state and federal tax, administrative laws and regulations.

Guardian Advocate: A person appointed by a Court to serve as an advocate and decision maker for a person born with a developmental disability such as: mentally challenged, autism, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, Praeder-Willi Syndrome.

Guardianship: A Court supervised proceeding where a guardian is appointed to act on behalf of an incapacitated person or a minor. A guardian must be appointed if the incapacitated person did not designate an agent in a Durable Power of Attorney or Healthcare Surrogate while he or she was. A guardianship may be required for a minor child if both parents are deceased or incapacitated or, if the child receives assets (inheritance or lawsuit settlement) exceeding $15,000.00.

HIPAA: HIPAA (HEALTH INSURANCE PORTABILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY ACT OF 1996) is a law created to protect people's privacy in regard to medical treatment. Information and records cannot be released to someone other than yourself except when there is written permission. A HIPAA Release will authorize all health care providers who may treat you to release information to your health care surrogate if you are unable to make medical decisions or provide informed consent.

Last Will & Testament: This document identifies who will inherit an individual's assets (the beneficiaries) and who will be responsible for distributing them to the beneficiaries (the personal representative/executor). For young parents and couples, a Will can also be used to appoint a trustee to manage a child's money until he/she is old enough to handle it themselves.

Living Will: This document specifies your wishes regarding life sustaining treatment in the event there is a diagnosis of a terminal illness, end-stage condition or, vegetative state.

Long-Term Care Insurance: Long-term care policies can pay the cost of a home healthcare aide, assisted living, or skilled nursing care for a person with an acute or long-term illness or disability. This vital asset preservation tool can shift the responsibility for payment of long term care costs from you to the insurance company, and provide you with more options for where you receive long term care. Medicare, Medicare supplemental coverage and health insurance provided by employers, do not pay for most long-term care expenses.

Probate: A Court supervised process of distributing property identified in a Last Will & Testament or, in accordance with the law if no valid Will exists. Since there is Court oversight for the entire process, the decedent and the heirs can rely on full and fair administration of the estate. Probate is necessary whenever a deceased person leaves assets titled in the decedent's name alone with no joint owner or, designated beneficiary.

Revocable Trust (Living Trust): This estate planning tool is used to assist people who want their assets to avoid the probate process. It is created and operates while you are alive. You are the trustee who manages your affairs and finances. You name a successor trustee to administer the trust assets in the event you become incapacitated or, when you die.

Special Needs Trust: A trust established for a person with disabilities and funded with assets either belonging to the person with disabilities (i.e. inheritance; lawsuit proceeds) or another person (i.e. parent; grandparent). Its purpose is to provide supplemental support (quality of care and quality of life) without disqualifying the person from eligibility for government assistance programs such as Medicaid, SSI, Food Stamps, and Section 8 HUD Housing.

The Florida Bar Board Certified Elder Law
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys
South Florida Legal Guide
Super Lawyers
NELF National Elder Law Foundation