Articles Posted in Probate

If you live in Florida and own property in another state an ancillary administration will be necessary upon the death of the owner(s) of that property. This special probate administration will be in addition to the administration you have where you lived. This is required because real estate or real property is treated differently than personal property.

There are several ways to avoid the additional administration:

  1. The real estate could be owned in a business entity. This converts the ownership from one of the real estate to one of a personal property interest in the stock or membership of the business entity.
  2. The real estate could be owned in a trust. Because the trust survives you, the trust will distribute the property according to the terms of the trust. The trust can also be used for other property and may even enable you to avoid the probate of your entire estate.
  3. The real estate could be retitled using a ladybird or enhanced life estate deed. This special type of deed, available in some states, is very similar to a deed with a beneficiary designation.

Florida’s statutory probate fees apply for an ancillary administration like other forms of probate in Florida. The legal fees start at $1500 and are typically 3% or less for the first million dollars of value. If your property is located in another state, the fees may not be as reasonable as they are in Florida.

We would be happy to discuss your specific situation and help you determine if a business entity, trust, or enhanced life estate deed could benefit your family and help to avoid the costs and delays invovled with probate. Note: some methods of avoiding probate can protect assets from creditors of your and your estate.

Most Florida probate courts simply accept the information contained in the pleadings that are filed with the court. These pleadings are usually signed “under penalties of perjury”.

Some courts (such as Citrus Count and Miami-Dade County) often require an Affidavit of Heirs.pdf to be filed along with the pleadings. There really is no other independent evidence that is required to prove who the beneficiaries are.

When a rightful heir has been omitted from the pleadings, it is important to act timely. Sometimes, there are people who are included that should not receive a ​portion of the estate.

If anyone (most likely one of the heirs) contests the proposed distribution of assets by claiming that one or more of the alleged heirs are not heirs at all, there will be an evidentiary hearing where the disputed heirs will need to prove they are heirs. (A Birth certificate is a good start on this).

Generally, the Affidavit of heirs contains information on the spouse, children of the decedent, the surviving spouse, children of the surviving spouse, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

Portland company WebCease is making waves in the probate and estate-planning community by helping attorneys and grieving families locate the deceased’s digital accounts.

CEO Glenn Williamson aims to be the first to provide this service to the growing market of families and attorneys trying to track down digital accounts. Williamson is banking on the need for this service to continue to grow as people continue to use digital accounts for shopping, social media and traveling.

WebCease searches across different vendors to determine if the deceased person had an account. WebCease then generates a report that outlines the location of the deceased’s accounts and includes instructions on how to transfer the account or shut it down. The company will not take any action to use the account, or attempt to login to the account.

For example, if a person has accrued points with Delta Airlines or Marriott Hotels, Webcease will find the account and alert the interested party as to what further steps and documents are needed to use the points. Williamson hopes the company’s services will help to save time for grieving families and reduce the possibility of identify theft.

Williamson first came up with the idea while visiting his LinkedIn page. The networking site suggested he connect with two people he knew had passed away. The idea further took root when Williamson’s mother died, and he himself had to search for her digital accounts. He documented these steps and realized the immense amount of time and work it took to track down these accounts.

It took him more than 20 hours or searching and researching the various companies’ terms of service. He eventually found his mom had 13 online accounts. This search allowed him to find more than 50,000 miles through United Airlines, which could be transferred or donated to another account.

Currently, about 60 percent of the process is automated. The rest of the work required the company to hire a team of researchers to compile the report. Williamson plans to hire six employees throughout the year. So far the company has targeted its service to probate attorneys and other estate-planning professionals. A full report costs $529, but the company is releasing a $99 pared-down version for consumers.

WebCease focuses on companies and websites with monetary value, such as travel sites, shopping websites, and social media sites that could hold sensitive information about the deceased person. Currently WebCease searches through about 70 websites and plans to add more as the company grows.

WebCease is a inventive solution for those who have not included their digital accounts in their estate-planning materials. According to Williamson, only 50 percent of Americans have a will and 90 percent don’t include digital assets in the will. For more information on Webcease or including digital information in your estate-planning materials contact the Law Office of David Goldman today at 904-685-1200.

Many people see joint accounts as a cheap and easy way to avoid probate, since joint property passes to the join owner at death, but these accounts can actually be quite risky when it comes to estate planning.

Joint ownership of accounts can be a great way to easily pass assets to another owner at death. Joint ownership is also a great way to plan for an elder person’s incapacity, since the joint owner of the account can pay bills and manage investments if the primary owner falls ill or suffers from any other sickness.

There are some potential downsides to joint ownership of an account. The biggest factor to consider is the risk of joint ownership. Joint owners have complete access to the account, and the ability to use the account funds for any purpose. When children are made joint owners of an account, it is often the case they can take money without consulting with the other children.

Another risk involved with joint ownership accounts is that the funds of the account are available to all creditors of all the joint owners of the account. There is one type of joint ownership called tenants by the entireties that does not have this risk for assets in Florida. In addition, joint ownership of an account can also serve as a roadblock to receiving financial aid or health benefits.

Joint ownership of accounts can also cause some heirs to receive more inheritance than others. An example would be if a child is named a joint owner of the account. At the death of the original owner, that child could receive more than the other children. While the original account owner can hope the children will share the funds from the account equally, there is no guarantee the other joint owner will distribute the money equally.

A system based on joint account ownership can also fail if the joint owner passes away before the original owner. If a child is the joint owner and passes, the child’s loved ones may not receive the benefit of those funds. For instance, if a mother places an account in the name of her child and herself with rights of survivorship and the child dies before the mother, the assets in that account will go to the mother’s heirs and not to the daughter’s heirs.

Joint accounts are best used in limited situations. One situation to possibly use a joint ownership account is when a senior has just one child and wants to pass everything to the child. Generally an estate planning trust can provide better protections for the unexpected than joint ownership or a beneficiary designation. There are risks involved with joint ownership and tax issues, so you should consult an estate-planning attorney before relying on joint ownership.

Another way a joint account can be useful is to include children on a person’s checking account to help pay monthly bills. This checking account should be a smaller account that does not include the bulk of the original owner’s assets.

Instead of taking a risk with joint ownership accounts, we recommend using more reliable estate-planning tools such as durable power of attorney to provide the ability to pay bills or help with financial decisions. These tools can limit the risk of loss by eliminating your agent’s creditors from those who can access your funds.

Planning an estate can be a difficult process, but also a rewarding one because it helps to ensure that a person’s heirs will be provided for after he or she dies. Many assume they should wait until after death to convey assets to their loved ones, but there are some benefits to giving assets to an heir while still alive.

There are two types of taxes to consider when determining when to give an heir your assets. A decedent who gives his or her assets to someone while still alive may have to pay a gift tax. This is a tax imposed by the federal government on any transfer of property. Property includes intangible items such as cash and stocks, as well as physical items such as vehicles or furniture.

The most important aspect of gift tax to understand is the unified gift and estate tax credit, which allows a person to give property tax free up to $5.34 million throughout his or her life.

According to current tax law, a person is allowed to give a tax-free gift worth up to $14,000 per recipient each year. This $14,000 is not counted against the lifetime exception. Any amount given to one recipient over $14,000 would count against this total. So this means if a person is given $18,000, then $4,000 would be deducted from the lifetime total and reported with a federal gift tax return.

When a person dies, an estate tax is imposed by the federal govern on the decedent’s estate after the property transfers to his or her heirs. This tax is calculated by the decedent’s “gross estate,” which includes all of his or her assets such as real estate, cash, and business interests. The net amount of these calculations are then added to any taxable gifts given by the decedent with a value large enough to deduct from the decedent’s unified credit.

These laws mean that giving heirs some inheritance now can actually be a good way of avoiding higher estate taxes. However, this is only beneficial to the gift giver if he or she avoids the gift tax by giving something with a value less than $14,000 per heir. If the gift giver is married, and gives the gift jointly with his or spouse, this gift will avoid the tax if its value is under $28,000.

There are other advantages to giving gifts while alive, which includes the benefit of seeing the heir actually enjoy the gift. This allows the gift giver to also advise the heir on how to use the gift. If the heir misuses the property against the decedent’s wishes, he or she can stop giving that person money and adjust the will accordingly.

There are also some good reasons to hold off on giving an heir their inheritance early. The biggest reason is the decedent may need that property or money while they are still alive. The financial climate can change between now and when the estate owner dies. A person who gives too many assets away may find they now need them in order to survive. A final reason to wait to give assets until after death is it allows the heirs to grow and mature first before receiving the gifts. This can ensure the inheritance is both more appreciated and used more wisely.

For more information on estate planning, contact Florida estate planning and probate attorney David Goldman at (904) 685-1200.

A recent ruling by the Fifth Florida Appellate Court on Friday allows surviving spouses to claim loss of consortium separately from others claims after the spouse dies.

The surviving spouse Margaret Randall filed the case, Randall v. Walt Disney World Co., in 2006 after her husband Barry Randall allegedly suffered injuries to his head and neck from riding a roller coaster. Besides personal injuries, Ms. Randall also claims loss of consortium. Loss of consortium is the inability of one spouse to have normal martial relations. Judges will sometimes award the surviving spouse damages for his or her loss of intimacy with their spouse.

The issue here was could Mrs. Randall claim loss of consortium after her husband died. Mr. Randall died shortly after the lawsuit was filed, which Mrs. Randall claims was a result from the rollercoaster injury. In Florida, the rules of civil procedure requires that when a party in a lawsuit dies a personal representative of the deceased’s estate must be substituted within 90 days. This is a rather harsh rule that must be performed on time or else the deceased party will be dismissed from the lawsuit.

In this case, Mrs. Randall did not make a timely substitution and thus the court dismissed her spouse’s personal injury claim. The trial court dismissed Mrs. Randall’s loss of consortium claim, reasoning the claim was derivative of the same personal injury claim it had just dismissed. However, the appellate court reversed and allowed the loss of consortium claim to survive.

This court had previously held in another case that a wife’s cause of action for loss of consortium, while derived from the personal injury to the husband, survives the death of her husband. When making this decision, the court looked to Gates v. Foley. The court in that case held that, “deprivation to the wife of the husband’s companionship, affection and sexual relation (or consortium…) constitutes a real injury to the marital relationship and one which should be compensable at law due to the negligence of another.”

In Ryter, the first district court in Florida held a wife’s loss of consortium claim is actionable regardless of the status of the husband’s claims. The court reasoned a, “wife owns the cause of action [and that] it is her property right in her own name.” Finally, the court in Orange Cnty. V. Piper, held loss of consortium to be a “separate cause of action belonging to the spouse of the injured married partner, and… it is a direct injury to the spouse who has lost the consortium.”

The appellate court of the third district reasoned a loss of consortium claim should not continue past death because the Legislature made recovery for a surviving spouse a part of the Wrongful Death Act. However, the Fifth District found this hold to be too limiting to the surviving spouse’s rights because the act only allows recovery in specific situations. This court felt the Legislature did not intend to limit a spouse’s right to claim loss of consortium, and thus reaffirmed its view that a loss of consortium claim survives a dead spouse.

Another appellate court disagreed with this conclusion, and thus the Florida Supreme Court may soon decide because of the circuit split. For more information regarding the surviving rights of a married spouse in Florida, contact Jacksonville attorney David Goldman at 904-685-1200.

The Florida Supreme Court recently decided the long and costly case of a deceased woman who tried to write her own Will using an online legal form.

In Aldrich, v. Basile, Ann Aldrich used a pre-printed legal form to draft a Will. She did this most likely to avoid paying an estate-planning attorney. This Florida Supreme Court Decision resulted in costly legal fees and most likely years of anguish for her family.

Deciding who would inherit Ann Aldrich’s property was appealed twice, which was finally decided by the Florida Supreme Court. The court’s decision of who would inherit the property was most likely not what the deceased had intended. Justice Pariente wrote in her concurring opinion the result of the court’s decision came not from the interpretation of Florida law but from Ann’s mistake of using an online form that did not adequately express her specific needs.

Ann Aldrich handwrote her Will using an E-Z legal form. In this document she wrote specific directions for her house and its contents, her life insurance policy, her car, and her bank accounts to pass to her sister Mary Jane Eaton. She even took a further precaution by writing in her Will that if her sister died before her, the above-mentioned assets would pass to her brother James Aldrich.

Tragically, her Will failed to include a residuary clause to address any other property she might own at death. Her sister died three years later after Ann drafted her Will. Her sister left her cash and real estate, which Ann deposited into an account with Fidelity Investments.

Ann Aldrich passed away 2 years later and had never revised her Will to include the additional assets she acquired from her sister’s estate. Since her Will did not include a residuary clause, a dispute arose within the family regarding who should actually inherit the property Ann received from her sister. James Aldrich, the brother, believed he should receive these assets, like the other property described within the Will. The other heirs, two nieces, believed the property should be considered intestate property. Intestate property is property distributed to the deceased’s heirs according to state law, because the property was not accounted for in a Will. If the property were intestate, then the nieces would receive a significant portion of the assets.

Ann did attempt to draft an amendment to her Will in 2008. The amendment stated that since her sister died, she wished to reiterate that all her worldly possessions should pass to her brother. However, the note only had one other signature, and thus the amendment was not valid under Florida law.

The trial court originally found in favor of James Aldrich, but the nieces appeal and won. The Florida Supreme Court agreed with the appeals court, ruling Ann’s 2008 amendment to be extrinsic evidence because the amendment was not properly drafted. When looking at a Will, the Court shies away from trying to guess the intent of the deceased who drafted the bill, and instead will only consider the concrete language of the document. Therefore, any assets not specifically included in Ann’s Will would have to pass to her heirs according to Florida’s intestate laws.

This court case serves as a reminder of the risks involved with estate planning. We recommend hiring an experienced estate planning attorney to draft your Will and to ensure your heirs are properly taken care of.

Last week, The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the funds contained in an IRA are not protected from creditors after bankruptcy.

You may need to reevaluate how your estate plan deals with your IRA. If your beneficiaries live in Florida, this may not be a concern because the Florida Legislature has an IRA exemption statute which includes inherited IRAs. As it is difficult to predict where your beneficiaries will live at the time of your death, you may not be able to count on the Florida statutes to protect your beneficiaries.

We have recommended to make an asset protection trust the beneficiary of your trust to protect from the retirement funds from the loss that could be associated with creditors of our client’s beneficiaries (typically their spouse or children). Many have not seen the need for this and as a result, there may be many families using traditional beneficiary designations which place their retirement funds at risk.

Attorney and U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee William Rameker won a landmark case in Clark v. Rameker last week that will fundamentally change bankruptcy law. The Supreme Court Justices held funds contained in an IRA, which were inherited by Heidi Heffron-Clark after her mother died, did not qualify as retirement funds.

The general rule in bankruptcy law is an IRA held by the original owner is considered a retirement fund and is exempt from creditors. Before this case, there was a gray area in the law upon how to treat a non-spousal inherited IRA. This ruling has cleared up the confusion. Now these funds are no longer protected by the retirement exemption.

The court reasoned inherited IRAs do not operate like ordinary IRA’s. Unlike a traditional IRA, a person who inherits an IRA can withdraw funds from it at any time. The owner of an inherited IRA must actually withdraw all the funds or else be required to take minimum distributions on an annual basis. Additionally, the owner of an inherited IRA can never make contributions to the IRA.

Clark inherited the IRA after her mother died in 2001. When she first received the IRA it was worth over $450,000. She took monthly installments from this IRA until 2010, when she and her husband filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Rameker argued Clark’s inherited IRA, now worth $300,000, was not exempt from creditors under 11 U.S.C. § 522(b)(3)(C) because the funds in an inherited IRA are not “retirement funds.” The Bankruptcy Court agreed with Rameker, but was overturned by the District Court, which felt the law protected any funds that were originally accumulated for retirement purposes.

The District Court was then overturned by the Seventh Circuit Court, who held the differences between an IRA and an inherited IRA were fundamentally different. The most important difference to the Court was that an inherited IRA “represent[s] an opportunity for current consumption, not a fund of retirement savings.”

The Supreme Court agreed and found there was three legal characteristics that lead the Court to conclude funds held in inherited IRAs are not set aside for the purpose of retirement. These reasons included the IRA holder’s inability to invest more money into the account, and the law that requires the holder to withdraw the funds no matter how far from retirement the holder may be.

The Supreme Court reasoned the IRA holder’s ability to withdraw 100 percent of the funds from the IRA at any time without penalty was too dissimilar from a traditional IRA. In a traditional IRA, the holder is penalized a 10 percent tax penalty if he or she withdraws any funds before the age of 59.

How this holding will affect bankruptcy law is unclear as there is now a risk that IRA money left to heirs will no longer be protected from creditors if the beneficiary is in financial trouble. However, in Florida these inherited IRA’s may still be protected from creditors by state law.

Bankruptcy law is constantly changing, and therefore it is important to consult an experienced estate-planning attorney to ensure your estate is secure for your heirs. For more information on IRAs and estate planning, contact Florida attorney David Goldman at (904) 685-1200.

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In today’s world, it is common to see blended families full of biological and stepchildren. It is crucial for parents, who wish to leave an inheritance to their stepchildren, make a will or trust because stepchildren do not have the same inheritance rights as biological children.

Florida’s probate laws do not treat stepchildren as a person’s legal heir, which means stepchildren do not have an automatic right to inherit from their stepparents. Remember that your children may be the stepchildren of your spouse, and depending on who lives longer may be unintentionally disinherited.

This does not mean that stepchildren cannot be included in the will. To ensure a step-child can inherit from the estate, he or she must be specifically named as a beneficiary.

If the stepchild is not specifically named he or she might not inherit anything. For example, a will that states, “I leave 40 percent of my estate to my children,” would only transfer assets to the biological children. This statement would only include a stepchild who has been legally adopted (which would not be a stepchild).

In Florida, a child is a person who is legally adopted or the natural child of the decedent. If the will is found to be ambiguous, a court may try to interpret the intent of the deceased by looking to the plain language of the will. Any general statement found in a will referring to children, will be assumed to mean only biological children unless defined otherwise.

If a person dies without a will, stepchildren will not receive any inheritance under Florida’s intestate succession law. This law states that if there is no spouse, the estate would first descend to the biological and adopted children of the decedent. When there is no descendant, the property passes to the parents, and if that is not possible, then the property passes to the decedent’s siblings. If the decedent has no heirs, then the property would go to the state.

Another issue may arise for children born out of wedlock. There is no issue if the parent includes this child in the will. However, there is an issue if the parent has died and the child needs proof he or she is related to the parent.

This is more often an issue when the child wishes to inherit from the father. If the father is alive, then a paternity test is usually performed to determine if the child is a descendant. This becomes more difficult to prove when the father is dead. In this scenario, a child’s best hope is that an autopsy was performed. Then it could be possible to obtain DNA samples from the father’s tissues in order to perform the paternity test.

Under Florida law, the intent to include children in a will must be made clear within the language of the document. This is why it is crucial the will be drafted by an estate planning attorney. An experienced attorney can ensure the intent of the will, and the identity of the will’s recipients, are made clear to the court upon the decedent’s death.

For more information on how to include your stepchildren in the will, contact Jacksonville Estate Planning attorney David Goldman today for a free consultation at 904-685-1200.

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