April 2012 Archives

April 30, 2012

Can Paternity Be established in a Florida probate?

There are very limited opportunities to establish paternity after the death of a parent but it is possible to do so as long as the mother was not married at the time the child was born and no paternity has been previously established.

According the Florida Department of Heath, if a birth record contains an error it may be possible to correct the record depending on the type of correct and the age of resistant, documentary evidence may be required to support the correction.

Once the father has died it is still possible to establish paternity by one of the following

(a) The natural parents participated in a marriage ceremony before or after the birth of the person born out-of-wedlock, even though the attempted marriage is void.

(b) The paternity of the father is established by an adjudication before or after the death of the father. Chapter 95 shall not apply in determining heirs in a probate proceeding under this paragraph.

(c) The paternity of the father is acknowledged in writing by the father.


Acknowledgment in writing may be in the form of a birth certificate, affidavit, or other writing such as a beneficiary designation under a life insurance policy. There are no formalities that are required and one court refused to require such evidence. In re: Estate of Jerrido, 339 So.2d 237 (Fla. 4th DCA 1976) the court refused to require authenticated evidence.

April 27, 2012

Florida Nursing Home Penalty Divisor Update 2012 by DCF

It has been many years since the regional divisor has been updated. For the last several years the penalty period was calculated using an outdated nursing home cost of $5000. As of now, the divisor has been raised from $5000 to $6880 in Florida (Florida Administrative Code)

What does this mean? If one does property planning, they can give away $6880 and only have a 1 month penalty. This becomes important when doing planning for individuals who have nursing home exposure.

This will significantly increase the amount of money most people could save by doing elder law planning in Florida. As you age it is important to consider both Florida Estate Planning and elder law when structuring your plan.

April 19, 2012

Law Review Article on Digital Assets & Estate Planning

John B. Conner has written a Law Review article in the Estate Planning and Community Property Law Journal titled "DIGITAL LIFE AFTER DEATH: THE ISSUE OF PLANNING FOR A PERSON'S DIGITAL ASSETS AFTER DEATH"

The article starts off discussing issues of digital assets and estate planning by defining digital assets and then discussing issues in estate planning created by digital assets.

It goes on to talk about how websites are dealing with digital assets and privacy acts as the relate to deceased users with social networking, web-based email, blogs and other online content.

Mr. Conner then give some suggestions for dealing with digital assets properly through planning, and some of the problems with using standard wills or other documents.

He then discusses post mortem identity theft and content theft from the deceased blogs and concludes that as the Internet continues to grow the need for estate planners who are able to deal with digital assets will continue to expand. Some state are attempting to implement legislation to help deal with these issues but those may only help if you die in one of those states.

I have recognized the need for planning for your digital death for several years and have been dealing with clients to design systems that will help provide for their digital death. If your current estate plan has not contemplated your digital death, perhaps you should talk with someone who understands how to deal with this unique class of assets.

While we have been saying this for years and it is the reason we created the original Gun Trust it is nice to see others in the legal community begin to recognize the difference and purpose in firearms trusts. Our trust are now designed for all firearms and not just NFA firearms.

April 12, 2012

Are Trust Protectors Good or Bad?

A trust protector is a person or group of people (not the settlor, beneficiary, or trustee) who are appointed to exercise one or more powers affecting a trust and the interest of the beneficiaries. The concept of a trust protector is to protect beneficiaries from a rogue trustee. They can often make changes to a trust involving who the trustees are, investment decisions, change how distributions are made and in some cases modify or terminate a trust.

They can provide help when circumstances change and the settlor's intentions are not being dealt with properly. While a trustee has fiduciary duties, in most cases a trust protector acts as an agent of the settlor and may not have the same duties as other trustees.

Others argue that you should impose fiduciary duties on the trust protectors and make them accountable to the beneficiaries. As such, it is important to have detailed discussions with clients about the roles and responsibilities of trust protectors. Their powers and limitations should be clearly defined to limit the scope of their actions.

Some recommend that while imposing a fiduciary duty on a trust protector, the claims can be limited by removing liability for simple negligence but not gross negligence or when their conduct amounts to a willful breach of their fiduciary duty.

If you have trust protectors in your trust, it is important to review the powers and limitations and to what standard they will be held if they damage the beneficiaries.

If you would like to add trust protectors to a trust to protect from improper actions of a named trustee or in the event of changed circumstances which may frustrate the settlor's intentions, you should contact a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer to discuss your circumstances and desires.

April 11, 2012

Slayer Statute and Asset Protection in Probate

The Florida Slayer Statute bars a murderer from profiting off the victim's assets. The victim's assets which are subject to a Florida Probate pass as if the murderer had predeceased the victim and other jointly held assets are severed so that the victim and murder each owned 50%.

One problem with the slayer statute is that the effect of the statute does not take place until there is either a criminal or civil conviction. It is possible to make changes to the ownership of the assets prior to a court determination that the slayer statute applies. While there are some safeguards in place to prevent those with knowledge from profiting from these types of transfers, there appears to be certain situations where one could protect the assets prior to such a determination. I have not seen any case-law where this has been challenged and do not know what the outcome would be but like with many asset protection techniques, it can put someone in a better position to negotiate if there are any funds or asset left.

One recent case in South Florida involved a beneficiary of a trust. This individual adopted his girlfriend so that she would be a legal beneficiary of the trust. While it does not appear that these asset would have been subject to a slayer statute claim, it is the type of planning that we are referring to and can create the desired results through creative planning.

If you are involved with a potential probate in which a relative was believed to be responsible for the murder of the decedent, contact a Jacksonville Probate Lawyer to discuss how to structure the assets or what steps can be taken to protect your rights.

April 10, 2012

Inheriting Debt from a Probate

We often get asked questions as a Ponte Vedra Beach Probate Lawyer about inheriting debt. Just as you can inherit property and other assets from a Florida Estate, it is possible to inherit the debt that is associated with the property.

When the debt associated with an asset is worth more than the asset itself, one must decide whether they want the asset or not. Just because you inherit something does not automatically mean you are financially responsible for the debt which is associate with the property.

In Ponte Vedra Beach and around Florida we are finding that homes often are worth less than the amount of debt remaining on the mortgage. Just because you inherit the property does not make you responsible for the debt. You may abandon the property in the Florida Probate or decide not to even probate the property or estate until the item which are upside down are dealt with in legal proceedings such as a Florida Foreclosure Case.

The only way a beneficiary is responsible for the debt is if they were a co-signer on the debt or signed a new document which created a financial responsibility.

If you are dealing with a Florida Probate and there are assets which may not be worth what is owed, you should contact a Ponte Vedra Beach Probate Lawyer to discuss your options.

April 6, 2012

Digital Asset Trusts: To my loving wife I leave my iTunes account


Estate planning is an important event in one's life. The fruits of a life time of hard work, passed down in the hopes that they will serve their next owner well. But in this modern age we live in, online digital assets are frequently left out of the estate planning process.

Much of our the time we spend each day is on the internet. How much of your information and is floating out there on the internet Between Facebook, PayPal, Flickr, twitter, iTunes, email addresses, passwords, user names and passwords, we have a lot of information that is not readily available to others if we should become incapacitated or die. In this age of the internet what happens to all of that personal info when we finally shed our mortal coil and update our Facebook status to dead? Do we want to loose our Facebook account when we die? Once the status is updated to deceased, it cannot be modified, updated, or used for other purposes. It continues to exist, just as you left it, until the asteroid strikes earth, or the apes rise up, or whatever your favorite end of the word scenario is, ends up happening. There may be value to your family or estate in being able to communicate with your previous friends.

To some this is perfectly acceptable. Some Facebook albums just never need to be seen again, for the good of all mankind. The problem arises when there is something worth saving, something worth passing down. The picture of you two on graduation day, wedding photos, that blog about the summer you spent in Europe, or photographic proof of how much more attractive your grandma was at your age. The memories and happiness that these photos will bring your loved ones is immeasurable. There may be things that your family wants to remove or modify. Something that was important to you, which they can now keep close, fondly reflect on, or pass down themselves. The hitch is only you knew your log in info, and your dead, and those close to you can't guess the answer to your asinine password hint question. What is the name of my mother's favorite pet? Seriously.... she lived to a hundred and had 9 cats when she died. How am I supposed to guess that.

The problem of how to handle digital assets is new, but the solution on the other hand is not. The formation of a trust to manage your digital assets can insure that before you pass on, you can form a plan to you give those closest to you the tools to ensure that the virtual you, that online life you build, isn't quarantined in internet limbo, but safely in the care of those you choose.

April 5, 2012

Florida Asset Protection Update

asset-protection-cash.jpgA Florida Asset Protection Lawyer is of most use when you do not have any potential liabilities. When you have a known creditor, you have to be concerned with fraudulent conveyances and fraudulent transfers. Generally if you participate in a fraudulent conveyance or transfer the court can undo a transaction within 4 years of its occurrence.

A Fraudulent Transfer occurs when you transfer an asset to put it outside the reach of a creditor.

A Fraudulent Conveyance occurs when you transfer an asset for less than full value and this causes harm to a potential creditor.

There are many ways of protecting assets as part of an overall Florida Estate Plan but careful consideration must be taken of your present situation and circumstances. Some of the tools used by Florida Asset Protection Lawyers include creating Florida Asset Protection Trusts, Domestic asset protection trusts, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, Florida LLLPs, and different forms of ownership.

In addition to how the assets are structured there can be different ways in which you spend "at risk" money and save money that is not at risk. If you would like to learn more about Florida Asset Protection, contact us to discuss your circumstances and objectives with a Florida Asset Protection Lawyer.

Note: Asset Protection is a complex practice area and as such we do not offer free consultations in this area. A typical consultation takes 2 or more hours.