Traveling: Don’t Forget Your Documents!

TravelingApril is a wonderful month of renewal and joy.  Just by resetting our clocks, we gain an hour of daylight and an opportunity to do more!

We get ready for holiday celebrations and throw open our windows to drink in the new Spring air.

Newscasters attempt to keep us grounded by advising that it is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, Alcohol Awareness Month, Better Sleep Month… among the several.

But, for almost all of us, April and Spring means some sort of travel.

Certainly, for our snowbirds, it means planning a return to their secondary abode.

The most common question our office receives from clients with more than one residential property they visit for more than a short time is whether their Florida health care documents (health care power of attorney/living will) are “good” in the state to which the snowbird is returning.

Many times that client will be in the other state for upwards of six months.  What if something terrible happens to them while they are in that other state and all they have are Florida documents?  Will their family member have any trouble using those documents and stepping in for them?

Many states will recognize and enforce another state’s health care documents as long as the document has been executed the way that state requires execution.  A number of states, however, will not enforce a living will if the person is pregnant.

In general, our clients’ experience has been hit or miss as to whether a particular institution under particular circumstances in a non-Florida state will accept a Florida document without question and with ease.  More often than not, the Florida document is referred to the legal department and there is additional stress and delay on the family rather than a seamless use of the document.

Now, what do I mean?  Let’s take New Jersey, for instance.  There is a software provider called All-State Legal used by many New Jersey practitioners to prepare the advance directive for health care – living will document, for instance.  All-State Legal puts their logo on the bottom of the document.  Consequently, health care professionals in New Jersey recognize this document as a “familiar” document and the health care professional will not feel the need to have their legal department review the document before being bound by its terms.  However, a document presented by a client to the New Jersey health care professional that does  not bear the All-State Legal logo and states that its provisions are to be interpreted according to Florida, rather than New Jersey law, will likely compel the health care professional to seek guidance from the health care institution’s legal department.

We see this happen routinely with health care powers of attorney and general durable powers of attorney as well.  In the meantime, the family member seeking to gain access to information to assist their loved one or make decisions on behalf of their loved one has no authority and is very upset.

The solution, while not necessarily inexpensive, may simply acknowledge your success – you would not need to have two sets of health care documents if you could not afford a vacation home and a primary residence…

So, before everyone’s Season schedule is completely booked, engage counsel licensed in the other state to prepare a set of health care documents for you making sure that they do not inadvertently revoke your Florida health care documents.  We routinely do this for my New York and New Jersey client since I actively practice in those states as well as Florida.

For those clients needing document preparation assistance in other states, through our relationships with attorneys in other states, we are often able to assist our clients in locating counsel acceptable to them and licensed in the other state to prepare health care documents for them if they do not already have a relationship.
When you undertake your Spring travels, make sure your non-Florida set of health care documents is with you or electronically available to you – in that way, should you or your family be faced with a terrible situation during which one of those documents is needed, you have a document familiar to that state’s health care professional and your document will NOT prevent your loved ones from helping you in your time of need.

Barbara M. Pizzolato, Esq. – 239-225-7911

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