Recently in Probate Category

July 29, 2014

Dangers of Relying on Joint Accounts for Estate Planning in Florida

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.

July 18, 2014

Probate: Is it a good idea to give your heirs their inheritance while you are still alive?

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.

July 17, 2014

Can a surviving spouse claim loss of consortium after the other spouse dies?

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.

July 15, 2014

Estate Planning: The Risk of Creating Your Own Will. Is it valid?

will and testament.bmpThe 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.

June 23, 2014

You Thought the IRA was Protected From Your Kid's Creditors!

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.

June 19, 2014

Probate: Do Stepchildren Inherit from the Will like Biological children do?

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.

June 12, 2014

Florida Probate Law: The Risks of Avoiding Probate Through Changing Ownership

Probate is the system the court uses to administer a person's estate, either through a will or through intestate succession. Clients often ask for ways to avoid the probate process, such as adding a child to their bank account or adding the child's name to the deed.

Adding a Child to a Bank Account

In most cases, adding a child to your bank account is not a good idea. A parent who adds a child to his or her bank account, may interfere with the will, and could put the account's funds at risk.

Generally, a power of attorney is the best way to manage a loved one's assets. A power of attorney is a superior way to handle these assets because it gives far more expansive control to the child over the parent's assets, but requires the child to act as a fiduciary to the parent. A power of attorney can allow a child to manage all assets in the parent's bank account. Additionally, a power of attorney can allow the child to become an agent to call insurance companies in order to settle disputes, and to enter and break contracts on behalf of the parent.

There are many risks involved with adding a child to the account. If the child has creditors or becomes subject to a judgment, those assets can be used to pay the amount owed by the child.

If another person is added to the account, the bank will give both parties full access to the funds within the account. This means the child would be allowed to withdraw funds whenever he or she wanted without restriction. While many parents may think this may never happen, we see it all the time.

Additionally, all the funds in this account would pass outside the probate process. However, if there is a will, the child is not legally obligated to distribute those funds in accordance to the will. These funds would also not pass to other heirs in accordance with Florida's intestate laws.

There may also be gift tax costs for adding someone's name to an account other than a spouse. Besides this cost, when the child is added to the account a gift of up to 50% of the account value takes place. This can cause gift tax returns to be filed with the IRS. There are limits on yearly and lifetime tax-free gifts, which could mean much of the account is subject to taxation. This situation can also be avoided by giving the child a power of attorney. In addition, this gift could disqualify the parent from nursing home coverage if it occurs within 5 years of needing coverage.

Adding a child to a Deed

Adding a child to a deed is also a bad idea for many of the same reasons. This is usually done in Florida by a life estate deed. This document would give the parent a present interest in the property and the child a future interest.

In this situation, a parent would retain the present right to live in the home. This right would last as long as the parent, or their spouse, is alive. During this time, the child retains a future interest in the home. This means as soon as the parent dies, the child becomes the owner and possessor of the home.

This situation creates some potential problems because the courts view a life estate deed as a gift to the child. This means the parents could lose a step up in tax basis for the children, face penalties and taxes for failure to perform gift tax returns, and lose eligibility for nursing home coverage.

A child's future interest can also be at risk to creditors and become subject to a judgment. While a future interest may not appear to have a money value on the surface, courts often allow the value of a future interest to be determined based on certain tables. These tables determine a future interest's value by incorporating factors such as the age of the parent, their life expectancy, and the current interest rates.

There are ways of avoiding probate, but doing so without the guidance of an experienced Florida Estate Planning attorney can put your family and assets at risk. For more information on how to plan your estate and power of attorney in Florida, contact Jacksonville estate planning attorney David Goldman at 904-875-1200.

June 11, 2014

Probate Law: Can a minor child be disinherited in Florida?

There are many situations where a parent may wish to disinherit a child, such as when the parent has been estranged from the child for years. Clients often wonder if they are obligated to leave assets to their children or if they are allowed to disinherit them completely.

Florida's constitution protects the rights of minor children through homestead laws, which prohibit the head of the household from leaving his or her residence to anyone other than a spouse or minor child. Under this law, a surviving spouse is given use of the property for the remainder of his or her life, this is known legally as a life estate, and then the home passes to the minor children. Recently a surviving spouse has been given the option of taking 50% of the interest in the home or the life estate. The homestead law only applies to children who were minors at the time of the death.

If a person dies without a will, any property that person owned during his or her life will pass under Florida's intestate succession law. Intestate succession is a law that regulates the decedent's estate for the remaining heirs. The part of the intestate estate that does not pass to the surviving spouse, or the entire estate if there is no surviving spouse, is given to the children of the decedent. This means that without a will, a person's children will receive part of their estate without the decedent's consent.

Pretermitted children can also inherit part of their parent's estate. A pretermitted heir is a person who is likely to inherit under a will, except that the person who wrote the will did not know of the child's existence at the time the will was written or the child was born after the will was written. This child will receive a share of the estate equal in value to what the other children would have received if the testator had died intestate. This means an unknown child, if not mentioned in a will, could potentially receive a larger portion of the inheritance than other known children.

Many clients mistakenly believe they are obligated to leave a child a nominal inheritance, such as a dollar. If a parent wishes to intentionally disinherit a child in Florida, they are typically better to leave the child nothing. Under Florida law, any person included as a beneficiary in a will becomes an interested party and are entitled to notice of the probate. This means that person must sign all consents, receipts and waivers regarding the estate.

There are some alternatives to disinheritance. One such alternative would be to establish a trust for the child, which would allow a trustee to control the trust property and give the heir an allowance or other stipulations. For instance, a decedent could create a trust that requires the heir to attend rehab and be regularly drug tested.

If a decedent does intend to disinherit either a child, it should be expressly stated in the will. Otherwise, a court could interpret the omission to be a mistake or a failure to update the will. Wills should be drafted by an estate planning attorney, who can discuss your objectives and make recommendations as to the options available to convey property to the ones who matter most.

For more information on child disinheritance and estate planning in Florida, contact Jacksonville attorney David Goldman at 904- 685-1200. Also, feel free to email us to receive a confidential estate planning questionnaire.

June 10, 2014

Probate Law: Are There Benefits to Adopting an Adult?

Adult adoption is not only legal, but is becoming a more popular way for people to ensure their estate is inherited by the ones who matter most in their lives.

In Florida, the state law makes no distinction between child and adult adoption. According to the statute, § 63.042(1), "any person, a minor or adult, may be adopted."

Adult Adoption in Florida requires the consent of the adoptive parent and the adopted person. Additionally, the state requires the consent of the adopted person's husband or wife if they are married. The court may waive the requirement for spousal consent if the spouse is not available or unreasonably withholds consent.

Further information regarding consent can be found in Fla. Stat. § 63.064.

If the adoptee's legal parents are still alive, the adoptee will have to provide notice of the final hearing to these people. The legal guardians are not required to consent to the adoption in order for the process to be successful. Once the adoption is final, it will terminate any existing rights, prior to the adoption, between the two parties. This means the adoptee will no longer be entitled to any inheritance, or other benefits, from his or her previous legal parents. But the adoptee's prior legal parents can create a new will or documents that name their prior child as a beneficiary.

One benefit of adult adoption is you are not required to change your name. When a person files for adoption they must file a Petition for Adoption with the court. This form allows the potential adoptee to designate the name he or she wishes to be known by after the adoption is approved.

A common question regarding adult adoption is whether or not a home study is required before the adoption is approved. A home study is performed by the state to determine the suitability of the intended adoptive parents. According to Fla. Stat. § 63.092(3), a home study is not usually required for adult adoption. This means the adult adoption process is usually an easier process because the parent no longer has to be approved by the state. However, a court can order a home study when a good cause is shown.

Once the adoption is approved, the adult adoptee can receive all of the same benefits of a child adoptee. This includes being allowed to inherit property from the adoptive parents the same as other children.

To determine if an adult adoption will offer benefits in your situation, you should consult with an attorney familiar with the issues related to adult adoptions and estate planning.

June 6, 2014

Probate Law: Can a spouse be disinherited from a will?

Modern estate planning has changed with the fabric of the modern American family. It is more common to now see scenarios such as estranged parents who stay married to raise children, or even married couples that live their lives completely separated from each other. A common question asked by many clients is can a spouse be disinherited from a will?

The general rule is that when a person makes a will they are able to dictate who receives their property after death. However, in Florida it may be very difficult to disinherit your spouse.

Even if the spouse and decedent are separated, the decedent's surviving spouse is entitled to elect thirty percent of the decedent's elective estate. This law was enacted to protect the surviving spouse from being left with nothing. The only way to circumvent an elective share would require a prenuptial, postnuptial agreement, or remove assets from the elective share. A prenuptial or postnuptial agreement can waive the surviving spouse's right to receive a portion of the elective share.

In order to receive an elective share, the surviving spouse must file an election with the probate court. The surviving spouse has up to 2 years after the death to file the election. The election must be filed earlier than 6 months after the spouse has received a copy of the notice of administration.

Once an elective share has been made, the first step of the process is to determine the amount of the share. The elective share is the right to receive an amount of money that is equal to 30 percent of the estate. A spouse who takes an elective share has no right to any specific asset of the estate, and may actually receive less money, or assets, if they had not taken an elective share. It is important to have an experienced attorney, who is familiar with Florida's elective share law, calculate the value this value in order to receive the greatest benefit.

The elective estate includes the same property subject to probate, including property passing directly to the surviving spouse. In addition, the elective estate may include property held in a trust that was revocable by the deceased spouse. It also includes the deceased spouse's ownership interest in the cash surrender value of life insurance on the deceased spouse's life.

The elective estate does not include irrevocable transfers that occur prior to the date this statue (10/1/99)was enacted, and transfers that occur prior to the date of marriage.

Once the amount of the elective share is determined, the share is satisfied as provided in the deceased spouse's will. If the will does not provide this information, the elective share in satisfied first by property that passes to the benefit of the surviving spouse. This would include life insurance and retirement assets, as well as property held for the benefit of the surviving spouse in a revocable trust. If this does not equal 30 percent, then the surviving spouse will next receive assets from the rest of the estate that were meant to pass to other recipients.

The assets that pass to the surviving spouse outright are valued by their fair market value as of the date the surviving spouse takes possession of the asset. An asset which passes to the surviving spouse by right of survivorship is valued at its fair market value at the time of death.

Florida's probate laws regarding elective shares are complex. An experienced probate attorney should be used to help determine if the surviving spouse should choose an elective share or not. Contact Jacksonville Probate attorney David Goldman by email or phone at 904-685-1200 for help with Florida's elective share law.

June 5, 2014

Florida Probate: Who gets the engagement ring when the fiancé dies before marriage?

Throughout the world, the engagement ring is known as a symbol of the love shared between two people who intend to marry. Engagement rings are expensive and often one of the most valuable assets a person will owns.

However, marriages in today's world don't always last, and a big issue faced by many estranged couples is who gets to keep the ring if the engagement ends. Who gets to keep the ring is a complicated answer that varies by state. To understand who keeps the ring when a death occurs, it is important to first understand the basic laws that decide who keeps the ring when the engagement is terminated.

In Florida, there are a few factors courts use to determine the answer. The general rule is the ring becomes the personal property of the person who receives the ring once the marriage occurs.

The emerging legal approach regarding engagement rings, used by the majority of states, including Florida, is that an engagement ring is a conditional gift. In Florida courts will rule an engagement ring to be a gift made with the implied condition that a marriage happens. In the Supreme Court case Randall v. Randall, a former wife was allowed to keep her ring after the divorce, "as part of her agreement she fulfilled... when she married the former husband."

This rule is fairly standard throughout the United States. A person who receives an engagement ring, and marries the ring giver, will get to keep the ring if a divorce occurs later. The issue of who keeps the ring becomes more complex if the marriage never occurs.

The rule in Florida is the person who gives the engagement ring may recover the ring if the person who received the ring terminated the relationship, or if both parties end the relationship mutually. This means the person who gives the ring is allowed to recover it, unless he or she was the one responsible for ending the engagement. The court in Gill v. Shively, held Charles was allowed to recover an engagement ring after Dianne told him she would not marry him because she was not ready for marriage.

So what happens when the person who receives the engagement ring dies before the marriage? In Florida there is no direct case law on the matter. However, other states with probate laws similar to Florida have addressed the issue.

In Pennsylvania an engagement ring is also seen as a conditional promise. Just like in Florida, the ring is returned to the giver if the other party breaks off the marriage. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania in Ruehling v. Hornnung, held this rule to have an implied condition that if the marriage does not take place because of death, the ring shall be returned to the person who gave it.

This holding has no precedent in Florida, however it is likely a court in Florida would rule the same way. The courts here favor giving the ring back to the person who gives the engagement ring, unless he or she is responsible for ending the relationship. Here, the relationship would end due to an act occurring other than the ring giver ending the relationship. Therefore, a court would be likely to return the ring to the person who gave it.

If the marriage does occur and the ring wearer dies, the ring would then stay within the deceased's estate.

May 22, 2014

Who Gets Child's Remains When Parents Do Not Agree?

There was an interesting case published today regarding who got the remains of their son's cremated ashes when the mother and father could not agree. One parent tried to state that the remains should be split and filed a partition case in much the same way as one would do with a home or a piece of land.

In reviewing the case history and what other courts have done, the Florida appellate court agreed with the trial judge who found that "ashes were not property" and hence were not subject to a partition. The court noted that while the division of ashes among heirs by funeral homes may be a common practice where the heirs are in agreement as to the division, a decedent's remains, including ashes, are not "property" subject to ownership or court-ordered partition.

The opinion starts off discussion comments by William Blackstone in 1753 and moves forward through Florida case law. If you would like to review the case and facts you may read the case here.here. The cite for the case is 39 Fla. L. Weekly D1037a

So if you're wondering who got the remains- The trial court had ordered that if the parents the co-personal representatives could not agree, the court was going to appoint someone else to make the decision.

December 26, 2013

How can I find a copy of my parent's will or life insurance?

We get many calls from children who want to know where they can get a copy of their parent's will or find out if they had life insurance.

First, if your parent is alive, you have no right to demand or see a copy of your parent's will. While it would be a good idea for them to share it with their children there may be reasons why they have chosen not to.

If your parent is incapacitated, and you acting as the agent under a power of attorney or the guardian over the property, you may look for these documents in order to preserve your parents assets or provide for them. A guardian or agent must be careful to avoid taking actions that could be considered changing the beneficiaries. They may also not create a will for someone else.

If your parent has passed and their will is not able to be found you may look to see if your parent had any bank accounts where they may have a safe deposit box. See if they have any documents which indicate if they had an attorney. If you still cannot find the will, you may also check with financial advisors or stock brokers to see if they can help you find out who your parent's lawyers was. Many people think that they can search the court records to find a parent's will. In Florida, one can no longer file their will with the court before death.

There is no easy way to find out if your parent had life insurance unless you can find a copy of an old bill. To do this you might check their bank records over the last 12-24 months and continue to watch their incoming mail for tax statements and account updates.

If there is no will or a valid will cannot be found, Florida does have a system for distributing assets to the person's surviving spouse, children, or other close family members. If you would like to learn more about probate in Florida, you may want to request the Florida Probate Handbook or contact us for more information.

September 3, 2013

Who has the right to make funeral / burial arrangements in Florida?

Thumbnail image for probate.jpgWho has the right to make funeral / burial arrangements in Florida?

Florida Statute 497.005 defines human remains and who is the legally authorized person to dispose of the human remains.
38) "Human remains" or "remains," or "dead human body" or "dead human bodies," means the body of a deceased human person for which a death certificate or fetal death certificate is required under chapter 382 and includes the body in any stage of decomposition.
(39) "Legally authorized person" means, in the priority listed:

  • (a) The decedent, when written inter vivos authorizations and directions are provided by the decedent;
  • (b) The person designated by the decedent as authorized to direct disposition pursuant to Pub. L. No. 109-163, s. 564, as listed on the decedent's United States Department of Defense Record of Emergency Data, DD Form 93, or its successor form, if the decedent died while serving military service as described in 10 U.S.C. s. 1481(a)(1)-(8) in any branch of the United States Armed Forces, United States Reserve Forces, or National Guard;
  • (c) The surviving spouse, unless the spouse has been arrested for committing against the deceased an act of domestic violence as defined in s. 741.28 that resulted in or contributed to the death of the deceased;
  • (d) A son or daughter who is 18 years of age or older;
  • (e) A parent;
  • (f) A brother or sister who is 18 years of age or older;
  • (g) A grandchild who is 18 years of age or older;
  • (h) A grandparent; or
  • (i) Any person in the next degree of kinship.

In addition, the term may include, if no family member exists or is available, the guardian of the dead person at the time of death; the personal representative of the deceased; the attorney in fact of the dead person at the time of death; the health surrogate of the dead person at the time of death; a public health officer; the medical examiner, county commission, or administrator acting under part II of chapter 406 or other public administrator; a representative of a nursing home or other health care institution in charge of final disposition; or a friend or other person not listed in this subsection who is willing to assume the responsibility as the legally authorized person. Where there is a person in any priority class listed in this subsection, the funeral establishment shall rely upon the authorization of any one legally authorized person of that class if that person represents that she or he is not aware of any objection to the cremation of the deceased's human remains by others in the same class of the person making the representation or of any person in a higher priority class.

May 14, 2013

The Advantages of Living Trusts: 6 Ways a Living Trust can Benefit Your Estate Plan

Thumbnail image for Last Will and Testament 1.jpgProbate can have the reputation of being a nightmare, and many hate the idea of going through this process. If the idea of transferring your assets through probate daunts you, then you will be happy to know that living trusts can avoid probate. The probate process is usually more expensive and time consuming than having a living trust set up to transfer assets. Moreover, a living trust has many more advantages than skipping probate. An estate-planning attorney can discuss with you the specific advantages that a living trust will bring to your estate plan and can assist you with setting up one to effectively address your needs and the needs of your beneficiaries. Meanwhile, here are 6 general benefits of using a living trust in your estate plan.

BENEFIT #1: A living trust can protect the assets in the trust for certain beneficiaries.
Sometimes, the intended beneficiaries are not capable to handle their full inheritance. For example, many states do not allow minors to own property. And even if a child was old enough to receive property legally, a full inheritance can detriment the child by tempting him to quit school or start an early retirement. Moreover, there are those beneficiaries who will spend all their inheritance at their first opportunity. A living trust can prevent any of these scenarios by allowing you to appoint a trustee to keep your assets for the benefit of your beneficiaries. The trustee would invest the assets in your trust for your beneficiaries' benefit until they are capable of handling their inheritance.

BENEFIT #2: A living trust can reduce and even eliminate estate taxes.
Even though there are no provisions in the federal tax code that exempt living trusts from estate taxes, living trusts are often used by people and families to take advantage of certain deductions and credits that are allowed under tax laws.

BENEFIT #3: A living trust can help manage your assets upon incapacity.
If you become incapacitated without having done some prior estate planning, then your loved ones may have to file an application with the probate court to have a guardian appointed to manage your property. This can be a wrenching experience because your assets and affairs will have to be prepared before total strangers. A living trust allows a successor trustee to take over the management of your assets if you ever become incapacitated.

BENEFIT #4: A living trust can avoid probate.
The assets in your living trust will not go through probate when you die. However, your outstanding debts and taxes will have to be paid. The reality is that avoiding probate might not be a viable option for some individuals. Discuss the factors of your case with an estate-planning attorney to find out whether or not skipping probate is a viable option in your case.

BENEFIT #5: A living trust can avoid a Will contest.
A Will is more likely to be contested than a living trust. This is so because a Will goes into effect when the person dies, whereas a living trust goes into effect as soon as the trust instrument is signed and usually lasts sometime after the grantor's death. To challenge a Will, an interested party needs only to show that the testator was either incompetent or under undue influence when he or she signed the Will. To challenge a living trust, on the other hand, an interested party may have to show that the grantor was incompetent or under undue influence when the trust was signed, when each asset was transferred to the trust, when each investment decision was made, and when each distribution was made to the owner or to anyone else. This is much harder to do than challenging a Will.

BENEFIT #6: A living trust can offer you privacy.
Probate is a public process. Therefore, theoretically, anyone can go into the probate court and look at a specific decedent's estate file. Unscrupulous sales persons often go through estate files to locate grieving heirs to prey on. A living trust can prevent this because it is private, does not get filed with the probate court, and no one gets to look at it unless the grantor or trustee allows it.

Contact an estate-planning attorney to assist you with setting up a living trust today. For an estate-planning attorney in Florida, call the Law Office of David M. Goldman PLLC at (904) 685 - 1200 or click the "Contact Us" tab at the top of the page.