December 2011 Archives

December 22, 2011

How do I file a Claim Against a Florida Trust?

In Florida, a creditor may open a probate to reach assets of a decedent which were kept in a trust. The trustee of a decedent's trust is responsible to file a notice of trust with the probate court. If you are unsuccessful in having the trust pay the debts directly, you can open a probate on behalf of the estate, file your claims and are entitled to be reimbursed for the legal expenses related to the opening of the probate. See Florida Statute 736.05053. Remember that failure to file a claim within 2 years of the decedents death can waive your rights to file a claim in the probate court.

If you are owned money by a decedent and can not figure out how to file a claim, contact a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer to discuss your options.

December 9, 2011

Will Contests: Are Foreign WIlls Valid in Florida?

In Florida a Will must be in writing, signed by the signed by the testator and authenticated by two witnesses. Florida does not recognize holographic wills that are valid in another state if they do not meet the above requirements. Other than holographic wills, Florida will recognize a will that was validly created in another country.

Therefore a foreign will other than a holographic will is valid in Florida and holographic wills created in anther state or country which are signed by the testator and authenticated by two witnesses are also valid in Florida.

There are three ways in which a will can be contested in Florida.

  1. Undue Influence;

  2. Testamentary Capacity;

  3. Failure to Execute with the Required Formalities.

The above example would involve Failure to Execute with the Required Formalities.
Florida Statute 732.502 defines the requirements that a testator must follow to create a valid will. Carefull attention need to be paid to a will that was not executed in Florida, or an old will to make sure that the requirements were followed at the time the will was created and not necessarily the current requirements.

In addition, a foreign will could be challenged under testamentary capacity. To have the proper testamentary capacity to make a will in Florida you must be of sound mind and either an emancipated minor or more than 18 years of age. Sound mind is having the mental ability to understand the making of a will, knowing what your assets are, and being able to choose who is going to receive them. You do not have to understand it later, but only have a lucid moment at the time you execute the document. If there is a question about mental capacity, it is a good idea to ask questions, and document the answers at the time the will is signed to create evidence of mental capacity for any future dispute.

The third type of will contest deals with undue influence. This happens when a beneficiary or another person causes a person to change a will to the detriment of another person. These are very hard cases to prove but do occur. Often a family member, caregiver, friend, or neighbor with access to a person can cause them to change a will with undue influence.

If you are considering contesting a will in Florida, you should discuss your situation with a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer to determine what your options are.

December 6, 2011

Democrats to Introduce Bill to Lower Estate Tax Exemption to $1 Million

Jim McDermott and the House Democrats introduced a bill to extend the estate tax beyond 2012. The proposal would reduce the current estate tax exemption from $5 million to just 1 million and raise the estate tax rate from 35% to a top rate of 55%.

The bill also contains restrictions on Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts :

  • Minimum 10 year term;

  • Annuity payment cannot be reduced from one year to the next during the first 10 years of the GRAT term; and

  • The remainder interest at the time of the transfer must have "a value greater than zero.''

  • The bill contains no guidance regarding the parameters of the "greater than zero" requirement.

  • Effective for transfers made after the date of enactment.

The bill would also limit discount on minority interest in companies or investments:

  • For the transfer of an interest in an entity which is not actively traded, no valuation discount would be allowed with respect to "non business assets";

  • For the transfer of an interest in an entity which is not actively traded, no discount would be allowed by reason of the fact that the transferee does not have control of the entity if the transferee and the transferee's family members have control of the entity.

  • Effective with regard to transfers after the date of enactment.

"It really is a question of clarity," for both families and planners, McDermott said. "The question is how to bring fairness into it."

Under McDermott's proposal, co-sponsored by Rep. Charles Rangel , the exemption for married couples would drop to $2 million from current level of $10 million. A surviving spouses could still claim the remainder of their partner's exemption if some remains unused after death. The rate and $1 million exemption would be adjusted for inflation, beginning at the 2000 level.

The bill would also unify the estate and gift taxes. That means a taxpayer would only have a single exemption of $1 million for their estate and most gifts. The legislation also includes several provisions from Obama's last budget proposal to end targeted estate tax breaks.

While there are not many days left this year, it might be beneficial to make larger gifts today to lock in the 5 Million dollar gift exemption in place now. To discuss how this could change your existing estate tax planning, contact a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer to discuss your specifics.

December 2, 2011

What are the duties and responsibilities of the Personal Representative in Florida?

Once the personal representative (PR or executor) is appointed by a Florida court, takes the oath of office, and posts bond (if required), then he or she is authorized to administer the decedent's estate. A Florida personal representative has a fiduciary responsibility to the creditors, the IRS, and the beneficiaries for proper administration of the estate. The personal representative must not comingle the estate's funds with his or her own funds, and needs to be fully accountable for all of the decedent's property during the administration of the estate. The personal representative may sell some or all of the assets of the estate to raise cash to pay the debts and expenses of the estate, if necessary or appropriate.

The personal representative is obligated to:

a) Identify, gather, value, and safeguard the assets.
b) Publish the "notice to creditors" in a local newspaper, giving creditors an opportunity to file claims relating to the estate.
c) Serve "notice of administration" on specific persons, giving information about the estate and giving notice of requirements to file any objections relating to the estate.
d) Conduct a diligent search to locate "known or reasonably ascertainable" creditors, and notify them of the time by which their claims must be filed.
e) Contact the Social Security Administration and the Veteran's Administration to apply for any death benefits or survivor benefits for which the decedent's estate may be eligible.
f) Locate insurance policies and apply for benefits if the proceeds are payable to the estate.
g) Contact the decedent's employer and any club or fraternal organization to which the decedent may have belonged to determine if the estate or surviving family members are entitled to any benefits.
h) Examine the circumstances surrounding the decedent's death to determine if there are any claims against third parties, which need to be asserted or preserved, such as claims for wrongful death or worker's compensation.
i) Collect rents, accounts receivable, interest, dividends and other income due to the decedent prior to death and that becomes due to the estate thereafter.
j) Assume the responsibility for any litigation or settlement of pending lawsuits in which the decedent had an interest.
k) Keep the property of the estate in good repair.
l) Keep the estate property invested properly until the administration is complete.
m) Locate and access any safe deposit boxes in the decedent's name.
n) Object to improper claims and defend suits brought on such claims.
o) Pay the valid claims.
p) File all past due and current tax returns.
q) Pay the taxes.
r) Employ necessary professionals to assist in the administration of the estate.
s) Pay the expenses of administration.
t) Distribute the statutory amounts or assets to the surviving spouse or family if claims are made.
u) Distribute the appropriate assets to beneficiaries.
v) Close the probate administration.

No personal representative shall be compelled to pay the debts of the decedent until after the expiration of five (5) months from the first publication of notice to creditors and is obligated to make payment of expenses of administration and creditors' claims against the estate in accordance with the priorities set forth in §733.707, Fla. Stat.

December 1, 2011

What are the Different Types of Probate in Jacksonville Florida?

There are 4 types of probate in Florida

1) Disposition without Administration.
This type of probate can only be used when the assets are less than the funeral bills and last medical expenses. This is available only if estate assets consist solely of property classified as exempt from the claims of the decedent's creditors by applicable law and non-exempt personal property, the value of which does not exceed the total of:

  1. up to $6,000 in funeral expenses; and

  2. the amount of all reasonable and necessary medical and hospital expenses incurred in the last 60 days of the decedent's final illness.

Very few estates will qualify for this type of disposition. The steps involved in a Disposition without Administration are preparing documents and filing them along with a copy of the paid funeral bill.

The current court costs are $231 and the legal fees for this type of probate are the lowest of the three types of probates.

The approximate time frame is less than 30 days.

2) Summary Administration.

This type of probate can only be used when the total value of the assets subject to probate are $75,000 or less, or when the decedent has been dead for more than two years. The steps involved in a summary administration are preparing the documents, publishing notice to creditors, determining homestead (if applicable) and having the funds distributed to creditors and beneficiaries per the court order.

The current court costs are $345, and publication costs range from $30 to $300 depending on the county and newspaper (most are around $150).

The approximate time frame is three to five months unless extraordinary circumstances such as a will contest occur. The estate cannot be closed while litigation is pending.

3) Formal Administration.

This type of probate is for all other estates or whenever a personal representative is required for other purposes. The steps involved in a formal administration are preparing the documents, getting a personal representative appointed, publishing notice to creditors, filing an inventory of the estate, determining homestead (if applicable), distributing the assets to creditors and beneficiaries, and closing the estate.
If you need Letters of Administration for any reason, or if the estate will be subject to litigation, you should open a formal administration.

The current court costs are $400, and publication costs range from $30 to $300 depending on the county and newspaper (most are around $150).

The approximate time frame is four to twelve months unless extraordinary circumstances such as litigation occur. The estate cannot be closed while litigation is pending.

4) Ancillary Administration.

Ancillary administrations are for secondary probate administrations when the decedent's primary estate was in another state, but there was also real property in Florida. Ancillary administrations follow the same procedures as a summary administration or formal administration depending on the date of death, value of the real property, and whether a personal representative is necessary.

The approximate time frames are the same as for the summary or formal administrations above. The estate cannot be closed while litigation is pending.