November 22, 2010

Homestead Exemption Crackdown

Most Florida Estate Planning Lawyer deal with planning for the unexpected and protecting your assets for those after we are gone. Part of this protection and planning often involves the use of the Florida Homestead. The Homestead Exemption is not exclusive to Florida. A recent case, a New York Representative is accused of claiming a Homestead exemption for a home located in Washington, D.C.

The homestead exemption varies from location to location, but it generally applies to one's primary home. Recently government officials have noted that even though this exemption was established in the late 1800s, still only few today take advantage of it.

Tax officials in several locations around the country, including Florida, have begun to crackdown on the number fraudulent claims that are being reported every year. The New York Times reported that Jennifer Frastai, City manager of Hallandale Florida, has begun an intensive effort to stop fraudulent homestead claims.

In Florida there are two homesteads. This article is dealing with the property tax credit with is often confused from the homestead that protects your residence from attacks by most creditors. While many states offer homestead credits for taxes, few offer unlimited protection from creditors. If you would like someone to review your estate planning documents to see if you qualify for either type of Florida Homestead Exemption, contact your local Florida Estate Planning Lawyer today.

November 22, 2010

Florida Homestead Property Law for Condominiums

twohomes.jpgFlorida homestead is a constitutional protection which makes the homestead of a decedent exempt from the claims of creditors. Florida Homestead can apply to condominiums, however, a Florida District Court recently affirmed a lower court decision which held that decedent's contractual interest in a condominium (which was owned by decedent at the time of her death) was not homestead property, and therefore, not protected from claims of creditors.

The decedent had purchased a life estate in a condominium from the condominium association and then entered into a repurchase agreement. The repurchase agreement provided that upon the death of decedent the life estate would automatically terminate and fee simple title would be vested in the condominium association, which would then attempt to sell the condominium for the benefit of decedent's heirs. Therefore, the condominium was not afforded homestead protection.

Considering the descendant did not have an interest at the time of death, I am not sure what this case was about. If her interest expired at death, there was nothing there to protect.

If you or a loved one owns a condominium in Ponte Vedra Florida make sure you know what type of agreements have been entered into between condominium owner and condominium association and consult with a Florida Attorney to learn more about the homestead law.

November 15, 2010

The Future of Multi-Member LLC's in Florida

The recent court decision which removed the charging order protection for single member LLC's has raised concern over whether a multi member LLC has charging order protection.

In addition, a member in Florida is defined as one who has an an economic interest in a Florida LLC as well as one who has been admitted as a member. In the case of bankruptcy, one may no longer be considered a "member" as defined in Florida law.

Many Florida lawyers are advising those who have single or multi member LLC's in Florida to switch them to LLC's in other states or change them to Florida Limited Liability Partnerships. Please note that just changing to a FLLP or FLLLP is not enough, one must have a special operating agreement which sets fourth obligations that will make it an executory contract in the case of bankruptcy.

If you have a Florida LLC, you should contact a Florida Business Lawyer to talk about how to change your organization or what options you have to protect your assets.

November 10, 2010

Some Contemplate Dying in 2010 to Avoid Estate Taxes

Forbes has an article about contemplation of death in 2010 to avoid estate taxes. As 2010 comes to an end, there may not be time for many to make the decision. The article quotes Rep. Cynthia Lummis in saying that some of her Wyoming constituents are planning to discontinue dialysis and other life-extending treatments so they can die before December 31st.

In many cases, the stories of this seem to be overblown as many can have the same results with good estate planning. To discuss your options contact a Jacksonville Estate Planning Lawyer.

November 9, 2010

First congressional face-off of new year could be over tax cuts

The Bush tax cuts are set to expire on 12/31/2010. Many feel the the first face-off between Republicans and Democrats could be over the estate tax and income tax issues. If nothing is done we will see significantly higher estate taxes and income taxes in 2011.

To plan for these higher estate taxes and see hot to reduce the effects of a Florida Probate contact a Jacksonville Estate Planning Lawyer to discuss how planning can give your family advantages over the typical Florida Probate process.

November 8, 2010

Family Business threatened by Estate Tax

grapes.jpgThe Napa Valley Register has a story of how a family vineyard was hurt by not planning properly for estate and death taxes. While this has not been a major concern this year with few states having death taxes and none at the federal level, this is about to change January 1st unless there is a legislative change. The federal estate taxes are set to resume January 1, 2011 with rates as high as 55% on estates in excess of 1 million dollars.

It is important to plan for estate taxes and have the liquidity necessary to pay them or your family business could be devastated and forced to liquidate to pay the IRS. To discuss how you can plan for the higher estate taxes contact a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer to discuss your options.

October 28, 2010

Unlicensed Contractors Can't Enforce Agreements

The 3rd DCA recently ruled that a contractor who enters into a contract with a company to install a satellite system was not able to enforce the contract because the contractor was not a licensed electrical contractor and as such the contract was unenforceable Under Florida Statute 489.532.

In Florida, in order to engage in electrical contracting, a person must be certified or registered with the state. § 489.516(2), Fla. Stat. (2004). The statutes generally define an "electrical contractor" as any person "who has the experience, knowledge, and skill to install, repair, alter, add to, or design . . . electrical wiring, fixtures, appliances, apparatus, raceways, conduit, or any part thereof, which generates, transmits, transforms, or utilizes electrical energy in any form." § 489.505(12), Fla. Stat. (2004). Additionally, section 489.532 states that, "As a matter of public policy, contracts entered into . . . by an unlicensed contractor shall be unenforceable in law or equity by the unlicensed contractor."

Disclaimer: I found this case and thought it was interesting and may provide my clients and readers some benefit. Please do not call me about providing legal advice or to defend against your contractors suit as it is not an area that I practice in.

October 21, 2010

Forbes reports that 60% estate tax rate could be around the corner

Ashlea Ebeling with Forbes is reporting that next years estate taxes could be as high as 60% for some. This title is misleading because the maximum estate tax will be 55%. She gets 60 percent by adding the max rate of 55% plus the 5% surcharge for assets between 10 million and 17.184 million dollars. This surcharge only makes the overall rate closer to 55% and the full 55% rate is not achieved until the estate is in excess of the $17.184.
So while there is a 60% estate tax, it is only a marginal tax rate and the rate is never higher than 55%.

Please do not think I am ok with a 55% tax rate, but I did want to clarify the issue. If your estate is greater than 1 Million dollars, you should consider meeting with a Jacksonville Estate Planning Lawyer to discuss ways you can increase your exemptions or hedge against the taxes that would be due upon your death.

September 12, 2010

Estate Planning Update: New Changes to Florida Homestead

home_under_water.jpgStarting October 1, 2010, if you die in Florida your spouse will be able to elect to take the traditional life estate in your homestead that is separate property or a 1/2 interest in the property. While this does not effect many Floridians, it does effect many who got married after purchasing their home or who have children from another marriage.

Traditionally the new spouse would receive a life estate ( the ability to live in the home for the rest of their life) and the children of the deceased parent who owned the home would receive the remainder of the property after the death of the surviving spouse or their step parent.

A Florida Estate Planning Lawyer can create documents that change or alter the homestead rights of a surviving spouse. Remember that it may not be your spouse making the decision, but the government or an agent acting under a power of attorney who make the decision and they may not agree with what you and your spouse decided upon years earlier. It is best to create a post nuptial agreement or valid waiver to address these issues while everyone agrees and before it is too late.

Contact a Jacksonville Estate Planning Lawyer or Florida Estate Planning Lawyer to discuss creating documents that address these issues and protect your spouse and children from the influence of others.

September 11, 2010

Florida Estate Planning Procedure

Estate Planning Procedure

We make it easy and affordable to obtain professional legal advice by offering complimentary consultations for your Florida estate planning needs with a Jacksonville Estate Planning Attorney. Once you've decided to implement your Florida estate plan, your documents will often be ready in less than two weeks.


Call our office at 904-685-1200,  email us  to obtain your Confidential Estate Planning Questionnaire or download it here: [PDF] [DOC]. Fill out our Confidential Form and send it to us.  All information listed on your estate planning worksheet is completely confidential and bound by the attorney-client privilege.  It should only take 10-15 minutes to fill out the document. Ther is no need to enter personal information more than once, you can siply list the name if the information was previously provided.  We only need general information on the assets, exact balances or values are not required.  For example if you have around 100K in cash we do not need to know that the number is 107,682.42.  You should not have pull bank statements or stock statements to get exact figures to answer any of the question.


Once we receive your information a Florida estate planning lawyer will contact you. We will review your assets with you and learn about you and your loved ones and answer questions regarding the planning options and tell you exactly how much each option costs.  If you have existing documents we will review those with you to make sure they will provide the protection you need given your current circumstances and goals.


Next, we will concentrate on creating an estate plan custom-designed to meet your specific needs and goals. We will decide together all of the specifics for your plan. We will agree on a fair, fixed fee for the work we do. You will know exactly what you will receive and for what price. Once these are decided and documented, we will begin drafting your plan.


We will schedule a time to come to our office or review the documents over the phone.  Then you can sign all of the documents.  If changes are needed, we will make them and re-execute the documents. We feel it is important that documents are in place when you leave our office to so that if something happens you will be covered.

September 8, 2010

Do-It-Yourself Wills: Good or Bad

While most articles seem to be nothing more than a press release from Legal Zoom or Quicken, Deborah Jacobs seems to really examine the issue. Check our the article on some of the Pitfalls of Do-It-Yourself WIlls

September 7, 2010

When can Notice to the Creditors Be sent

probate.jpgCreditors only have 90 days to file claims in a Florida Probate once notice has been published. For this reason it may be beneficial to publish notice as soon as possible. Unfortunately, you can only publish notice once a Personal Representative has been appointed. If there is a dispute about who will be the PR in a Florida Probate case the ability to publish notice to the creditors will not happen until the Florida Court appoints a Personal Representative.

Creditors claims are barred 90 days after publication or 2 years after the death of the decedent. If you have a question about a Florida Probate case or want to speak with a Jacksonville Probate Lawyer contact us by phone or email.

September 2, 2010

Florida Constitution can protect two Florida Homes as Homestead

twohomes.jpgThe Homestead Exemption in Florida, which was established in the State's Constitution, has always provided for the protection of the Family home free from creditors and liens. In 1985 the Constitution was amended to extend the protection to the "natural person" and not necessarily having to be the head of the household. The 4th district Court of Appeals ruled that a husband and wife who are separated for a period of time can BOTH claim the Florida Homestead Protection from creditors. This ruling does nothing to allow two homestead tax deductions. Law v. Law et al., 738 So. 2d 522.

The case involves a husband and wife who were separated for several years. They both claimed Homestead exemption for the Hollywood home that they owned jointly. But when his mother got sick, he and his wife decided to sell the home to pay for the medical bills. His ex-wife had a claim against him for support and brought action to seek recovery through the sell of the home. He filed for Homestead exemption. The court of appeals ruled that "we see nothing inconsistent with our public policy if we extend a homestead exemption to each of two people who are married, but legitimately live apart in separate residences, if they otherwise meet the requirements." Court referencing Colwell v. Royal International Trading Corp., 226 B.R. 714 (Bank S.D. Fla. 1998) to show precedent on allowing dual homestead exemption. The court seemed to find it important to find that the separation was not contrived to defraud creditors.

If you would like to talk about how to create two homesteads and document them to avoid unnecessary litigation over the issue, contact a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer or if one or more of your home is in foreclosure contact a Jacksonville Foreclosure Defense Lawyer.

August 23, 2010

Pre-Validation of Wills and Trusts Before You Pass Away

Over the past summer, Alaska has become one of a few states to allow pre-validation of a will. The state legislature also took the law a step farther and allowed trusts to be validated by the grantor before they pass away. In order to explain the new process it is essential to know how most states operate in the probate process. In Florida, if a beneficiary wishes to contest a will, the document must first be submitted to probate. The probate court will not allow probate proceedings to proceed unless the testator is deceased which eliminates the crucial witness of the document, the testator. For this reason, Florida subjects wills and trusts to a number of formalities in order to be deemed valid.

In their effort to reduce will challenges, the Alaska law allows the testator to accurately express their intentions before they die rather than allowing the process to occur afterward. The process first starts by notifying all interested parties and serving them with a copy of the will or trust. The parties then have a specific deadline for filing a challenge to the document, usually 3 to 4 months, before they permanently lose the chance to contest the will. If there is a challenge, the testator will be there to confirm the validity of the document. Since a court can verify duress, undue influence, and capacity while the testator is testifying, the judge can make a final ruling on the authenticity of the will or trust.

Although Florida has not adopted any law of this kind, Alaska allows non-residents to take advantage of their laws. However, a will must be probated in the decedent's state of residence so it is doubtful a Florida court will give any significance to an pre-validated Alaska will. On the other hand, trusts are separate legal entities from their creator so pre-validating this document may prove critical in probate proceedings. A Florida Estate Planning Lawyer offer assistance to your estate plan and answer any further questions concerning wills and trust documents.

August 21, 2010

Rite Aid Settles with HIPAA for Privacy Violations

A recent article by Tanya Roth reveals some shocking truths about our local drug store. Rite Aid is being held accountable for their employees' actions after an investigation by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) revealed privacy regulations were not followed. The chain of drugstores has reached a settlement with the Department of Health and Human Services and the FTC where they will pay damages of $1 million. Spurred by a television station's videotape, the investigation revealed Rite Aid employees dumping labeled medicine bottles and prescriptions into public dumpsters near their stores.

Since these medicine bottles contained the private information of customers, it was obvious Rite Aid was not abiding by the requirements protecting patient information under HIPAA privacy regulations. OCR confirmed that customer information and other private information was disposed of improperly including job applications. In addition to the $1 million they will have to pay under the settlement, Rite Aid is obligated to implement new training procedures and policies for monitoring internal operations. Nevertheless Rite Aid was not the only drugstore to be targeted by the OCR as last year CVS Pharmacy paid a much larger fine for HIPPA violations.

These violations of health care laws affect everyone but elderly citizens are more at risk because they are frequently in need of medications. Identity theft has been on the rise for many years and this crime is often the result of criminals sorting through dumpsters for any private materials you through away.