March 24, 2013

Florida Pet Trust

florida-pet-trust.jpgWe often get questions regarding the creation of Pet Trusts in Florida. Florida Statutes have provided for pet trusts for many years but they do not always make sense. I have attached a document which you can use to help gather information that will be necessary to determine if a Florida Pet trust is right for your family or you should be looking to add separate provisions to your Florida Will or Florida Revocable Trust to deal with taking care of your pets in the case that you are unable to. Which ever way you decide to go, we provide free Pet Trust provisions or instructions with all of our estate plans when they are requested. This means that there are no additional charges for standard instructions or basic Pet Trusts with any estate plan we draft. Obviously if your situation requires a more complex plan there will be charges associated with it, but we love animals and want to make it easy and inexpensive to take care of your pets.

To begin the process download the Florida Pet Trust Document, take a few minutes to complete it and return it to us with your estate planning objectives.

March 20, 2013

The Effects of Using a Deed to Transfer Real Estate Property Ownership to Avoid Probate

greenhouse.pngYou can transfer ownership of your real estate property through probate, or by signing an instrument known as a deed.1 Using a deed to transfer ownership of your real estate allows you to bypass probate, but there are some risks associated with this alternative. This blog discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using a deed to transfer ownership of your real estate property.
Advantages of Using a Deed to Transfer Ownership


  1. A transfer by deed can allow you to reserve the right to use the real estate property transferred for the remainder of your lifetime: There are different types of deeds that can be used to transfer property and each one of them serve a different purpose. Some deeds, like the life estate deed, allow you to transfer ownership of your real estate property while reserving you the right to use the property for the remainder of your lifetime.

  2. A transfer by deed can simplify the transfer of your real estate property: A deed transfers ownership of your real estate property automatically and bypasses probate. Therefore, a transfer by deed avoids you the delays and expenses of Florida probate.

  3. A transfer by deed can bypass both your creditors and your beneficiaries' creditors: Property transferred through probate is subject to the claims of your creditors and the creditors of your beneficiaries unless the property transferred qualifies as your homestead.


Disadvantages of Using a Deed to Transfer Ownership

  1. A transfer by deed can place your home in jeopardy to other's creditors: The Florida Supreme Court noted in Snyder v. Davis that there are three kinds of homestead that have the following purpose: preserve the family home for its owner and his or her heirs. One kind of homestead protects the home from forced sale by creditors. Sometimes families attempt to transfer their home by adding kids on to the house deed to avoid probate. These families face a problem when one or more of the owners mentioned in the deed do not live in the home. The problem is that the ownership percentage of the person not living in the home is subject to the claims of his or her creditors. The problem is aggravated when no ownership percentage is specified in the deed since Florida assumes that there are equal percentages of ownership to each person named on the deed. If a creditor takes an ownership in the home, then he can force the sale of the whole property. Therefore, adding someone to your house deed to transfer ownership of the property avoiding probate might leave you with nothing to transfer. The same scenario applies to those who try to transfer ownership of their house with a Florida life estate deed.

  2. A transfer by deed brings adverse tax consequences: There may be gift taxes or penalties associate with the failure to report the gift if the value is over the yearly gift tax limits.

  3. A transfer by deed can cause you to lose stepped up basis: This can cause a much greater income tax upon the sale of the property in the future.

  4. A transfer by deed might cause you to pay gift tax: If you do not receive payment for the transfer, then the IRS views the transaction as a gift and requires you to pay a gift tax. However, there are some exclusions to this tax.

  5. A transfer by deed can create a disqualifying transfer of assets for Medicaid purposes: This can be for as long as 5 years.


If you are trying to avoid probate in Florida and would like to also have protection for your homestead from creditors, not have adverse tax consequences, not lose stepped up basis, and/or not create a disqualifying transfer of assets for Medicaid purposes, you should contact a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer to discuss how to protect your homestead and the options available that deal with your circumstances and goals. To contact a Florida Estate Planning lawyer call the Law Office of David M. Goldman PLLC at (904) 685 - 1200.

January 4, 2013

Recent Florida Law Changes Make having a Will More Important.

What happens if I die without a will in Florida?

Florida probate law has changed recently with regard to people who die intestate (without a will) and are married.

If you have no descendants, your entire intestate estate will go to your spouse. This does not typically include your home or other non-probate assets.

If you and your spouse have descendants, and your spouse has no descendants other than those which are common to you, then again your spouse receives your entire intestate estate.

If you have children from a previous relationship your spouse will only receive one-half of your estate. The same is true if your spouse has children that are not yours and you have some children in common.

If you own a homestead with your spouse then the spouse will receive the homestead outright. If your homestead was only owned by you then your spouse will receive a life estate or may elect to take 50% of the home as tenants in common with your children. If your spouse does not elect to take the 50% ownership then your children will receive the remainder of the home.

This new election that the spouse has can create some problems or unexpected results that can be dealt with by using a will or trust in Florida.

January 3, 2013

When is IRS Form 706, United States Estate Tax Return, Due?

While personal income tax returns and gift tax returns for taxable gifts made during 2011 are due on or before April 17, 2012, estate tax returns for decedents who died during 2011 are not due on April 17, 2012.

If a decedent who died in 2011 is required to file a federal estate tax return or a generation-Skipping Tax Return, it is due on or before nine months after the decedent's date of death.

For example, if the death occurred on April 1, 2011, then IRS Form 706 will be was Due on or before January 1, 2012. If they died after April 1st you still have time to file the returns.

Do I need to file a return? This information will help you to determine if Form 706 is needed for a decedent who died in 2011:

If the Gross estate exceeds $5 million the a Form 706 must be filed for the estate of every U.S. citizen or resident who died in 2011 and whose gross estate, plus adjusted taxable gifts and specific exemption, is more than $5 million. To determine whether a return must be filed, add:


  1. The adjusted taxable gifts (under section 2001(b)) made by the decedent after December 31, 1976;

  2. The total specific exemption allowed under section 2521 (as in effect before its repeal by the Tax Reform Act of 1976) for gifts made by the decedent after September 8, 1976; and

  3. The decedent's gross estate valued at the date of death. (See Instructions for Form 706 for additional information.)


Should I Make the portability election. Even if the value of an estate of a decedent who died in 2011 does not exceed $5 million, the surviving spouse will want to consider filing IRS Form 706 in order to take advantage of the election to use the deceased spouse's unused estate tax exemption.

Note: The estate tax exemption has dropped to 1 Million for 2013 so this will apply to many more people unless congress acts to change the estate tax and gift tax exemptions this year

January 1, 2013

Will Contest and Summary Administration

In Florida when a Summary Administration is used to Probate an estate the Florida Probate must be converted to a Formal Administration to allow for a will contest.

There are time limits to object to a will so it is important to file documents timely. If the probate has not been opened in Florida it is possible to file a caveat. A caveat is a notice that is file in the probate court that allows you an opportunity to object to a will or the appointment of a personal representative. It is basically a notice to the court to give you an opportunity to respond before the court appoints a PR or admits the will for probate in Florida.

It is more difficult to remove a PR after they are appointed so if you feel that something is wrong, it is a good idea to file a caveat as soon as possible.

One a Florida Summary Administration Probate has been opened, it will need to be converted to a Formal Administration before you can object to the Last Will and Testament on grounds of undue influence.

While objections are not common in a summary administration there are circumstances when they may make financial sense. If you feel that a will was obtained by undue influence or created when someone lacked the capacity to create the will, you should contact a Jacksonville Estate Planning Lawyer or fill out the contact us form on this page.

November 6, 2012

Estate Tax Law Changes Worry Many Farmers & their Families

John Buchanan has an article in Central Florida's Agri-Leader which was published on October 24th which discusses the effects of the expiration of the estate tax exemption on farmers.

Many farmers end up loosing farms because of estate taxes and the inability of their families to become liquid enough to pay the estate tax bills. Over the past few years, the estate tax exemption has been high enough that many small farmers have not had to worry about this effect, but that could all change on January 1, 2013.

I was interviewed by John Buchanan about some of the potential solutions that small farmers could use to help insulate against the huge tax changes set to take effect next year.

One solution involves the purchase of life insurance to offset the taxes that will become due. Another solution involves a gifting strategy that takes advantage of the 5 million dollar gift tax exemption that is also set to expire 12/31/2012. There are other strategies, but you should discuss your objective and circumstances with an estate planning lawyer to see which options make sense for you and your family.

September 14, 2012

Childless and Aging? Time to Designate a Caregiver

Phyllis Korkki with the NY Times wrote an article dealing with some of the problems our aging society has when they have no children or natural caregivers and ways to help deal with it. In the article, she quotes me in dealing with some ways you can use legal documents that can be prepared by an attorney to deal with giving someone legal rights to help you make decisions if and when you need it.

These documents can also help avoid a guardianship and limit the ability for some to hijack your assets and use them up with unnecessary fees.

Follow this link to the NY Time article or contact us to discuss how we can provide documents to help manage these situations for your, your friends, or your family.

September 10, 2012

Florida Court Finds that Settlor Lacked Requisit Capacity to Execute Trust Amendment

florida-case-law.jpgIn the Florida case of Jervis v. Tucker, 37 Fla. L. Weekly D349 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012)

Bernice J. Meikle executed a revocable trust agreement in 1991, which she subsequently amended by executing a first amendment. Her trust, as amended by the first amendment,
provided that Meikle's power to revoke or amend the trust would be suspended upon her being "adjudicated incapacitated by a court of appropriate jurisdiction." The trust further provided that Meikle's powers could be restored by an order of an appropriate court having jurisdiction over Meikle, or upon the issuance and receipt by the Trustee of a written opinion from two licensed physicians after their examination of Meikle.

Meikle was adjudicated incapacitated in 2000. On December 27, 2001, Meikle executed a second amendment to her trust without obtaining a court order authorizing the amendment or restoring her capacity to amend the trust,and without written opinions from two licensed physicians.

The second amendment attempted to reallocate the distribution of her assets. Meikle died in 2007 and the second amendment to her trust was subsequently challenged by beneficiaries under her first trust amendment. In granting a motion for summary judgment, the trial court ruled that the second amendment was "void and of no legal effect." On appeal, Appellant argued that the record evidence showed that Meikle did not lack testament capacity when she executed the second amendment in 2001. The Fourth District found that the plain meaning of the trust agreement, as amended by the first amendment, required Meikle to either have her capacity restored by the court or through the written opinion of two licensed physicians.

Although the trial court had judicially restored certain of Meikle's rights before her death, it had not restored her rights concerning her property. Moreover, at the trial level, Appellant only offered the opinions of one licensed physician in support of his argument that Meikle had testamentary capacity. Although Appellant also offered the opinion of a licensed nursing home health care administrator, the Fourth District noted this witness, even though possessed of expert experience, was without a physician's license.

Therefore, because the unambiguous provisions of the trust had not been met, the Fourth District affirmed the trial court's ruling that Meikle lacked the requisite testamentary capacity to execute the second amendment to her trust.

It is important to understand and comply with the terms of the trust when making changes. You not only have to comply with the trust but with state laws that may override the terms of the trust. In this case, the Ward did not have their ability to deal with property restored by the court nor did they have two doctors state that she was not incapacitated. Even with two doctors the court order determining incapacity would have seemed to have not restored the power to deal with property including her trust.

September 7, 2012

Refusal to follow preference for appointment of Personal Representative was an abuse of discretion

florida-case-law.jpgIn the case of Bowdoin v. Rinnier, 81 So. 3d 582 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) The Decedent died intestate, leaving her husband, and a minor child as her sole heirs. Decedent's mother, filed a petition for administration seeking her appointment as personal representative. The surviving spouse filed a counter-petition for administration seeking his appointment as personal representative. After hearing, the trial court granted Appellee's petition notwithstanding husband's preference in appointment under § 733.301, Fla. Stat., because the trial court determined it was in the best interest of all parties to appoint the Decedent's mother as personal representative. On appeal, the Second District found the trial court's decision was an abuse of discretion. The Second District reinforced the proposition that statutorily preferred individuals should be appointed unless the record shows the preferred person is unfit to serve. In this case, the Mother produced no witnesses or evidence at the hearing to show the husband was unqualified to serve. The Second District Court therefore reversed the trial court's appointment of the mother and remanded the matter back to the trial court to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the decedent's husband was fit to serve as personal representative.
September 7, 2012

Last Will and Embezzlement

New movie about financial exploitation of the elderly.

September 5, 2012

Life Estate Deeds May Put Child's Interest In Home At Risk to Creditors

asset-protection-cash.jpgIn Florida many parents create Life Estate Deeds with their children in an attempt to avoid Probate on their homes. A Florida Life Estate Deed is a document which changes the ownership of a home or other piece of real estate. Essentially it creates a present interest and a future interest. A traditional life estate would say something like this, " I give my self and my spouse the right to live in the home as long as either of us shall live and the remainder to my child or children."

This example would create a future interest that vests now in the child or children and a present interest or right to use the home for the parents or grantor. While there are many potential problems like loss of tax basis, penalties and interest for failure to do gift tax returns, loss of eligibility for nursing home coverage because of the gift, the issue we are concerned about here is the risk that the home could be lost to the creditor of the child or one of the children.

Here is how it works. If the child or children do no live in the parents home, it is not their homestead, even if they do live in the home, it cannot be their homestead because they do not have a present interest in the home. Remember the child or children only have a future interest in the home. A creditor can levy against that asset just like any other. There are tables that determine the value of a future interest based on the age of the parents, their life expectancy, and the current interest rates.

So besides all the other risks associated with transferring a portion of your home to a child, you may in fact transfer nothing to your child if they end up having a creditor take the child's portion of the home.

There are ways of avoiding probate, reducing risks of loss to creditors, and receiving favorable tax status that may work in your situation but you should discuss these with a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer to see which options offer the best combination of benefits for your situation.

September 4, 2012

Who Ownes your Itunes Account? and Bruce Willis

digital_assets.jpgLast week there were several articles which brought light to many that our online identities are just licenses which will expire upon out death. While this concept is new to some, most lawyers understand this. Unfortunately there appear to be some who do not understand that we are dealing with licenses which expire upon death, because they are recommending that their clients deal with these assets using a traditional will. While they understand that a will only deals with assets that exist after death, they probably do not understand that your iTunes , Amazon , Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter accounts are licenses, which if owned individually, will not survive the death of the creator.

A Trust or Business entity can survive death! They are fictitious entities which are created by state statutes which do not have to dissolve upon death. A trust generally has provisions for beneficiaries unlike a business entity.

Last weekend the Wall Street Journal and several other publications ran articles on Who inherits your iTunes account?
Over the weekend there were several stories in the UK and Australia about Bruce Willis and his massive iTunes account with 80,000 or so songs. Today it is being reported that Bruce has no plans on suing Apple Computer over his iTunes account.

While your Amazon and iTunes accounts may be the most popular and have the most perceived value to people, it is often their other accounts that make more sense to try to protect in a DAPTrust.

If your mortgage goes to your email account and you die or become incapacitated, who will know who or how much to pay? Will they know soon enough to save your home from foreclosure, or will you incur thousands of dollars in legal fees because you signed up for electronic billing?

Will your family have the right to access your digital photos? Can you family realize value in your Facebook, or Twitter accounts to contact your "Friends" on your behalf to let them know of your illness, condition, or passing? Could your family benefit financially by allowing others to contact your "Friends" who may be aligned similarly in business?

While the iTunes angle is appealing, the other reasons are the real reasons one should plan to deal with his or her Digital Assets. Ensuring that you children can listen to your older outdated music is a nice thought, but can you remember the last time you pulled out one of your parents records or tapes to listen to it.

If you are interested in planning for your Digital Assets you might consider talking with an estate planning professional about a Digital Asset Trust - DAPTrust.com

August 29, 2012

Trusts and Florida Homestead Property

florida-case-law.jpgFlorida is a rather unique state in rights associated with homestead exemptions from forced sale. In a nutshell, it is nearly impossible for creditors to force the sale of a homestead (a situation famously highlighted by OJ Simpson, who purchased a large estate in Florida in part to avoid creditors).

Florida's homestead exemption also protects spouses and children of decedents: a spouse cannot transfer the property by will if survived by a spouse or minor child. While this rule often plays a positive role for families of decedents, certain cases show potential perils. Those cases primarily involve "blended families"; i.e., situations where a person late in life remarries. Florida's homestead exemption seems to presume that the surviving spouse will also be a biological parent of the surviving children, but that is not always the case. Blended families can be a lightening rod of litigation, as highlighted by the case of Aronson-v-Aronson.pdf.

This case is the third time the parties have been in the appellate court. These parties have been fighting for over a decade. Here's the story: a Mr. Aronson died after creating a revocable trust. Under the terms of the trust, his wife Doreen would take a life estate in the Key Biscayne condo the two of them shared. After that, the condo would go to Mr. Aronson's sons. However, in the time between creating the trust and dying, Mr. Aronson deeded the same condo directly to Doreen.

This created some problems, as there were basically two conflicting deeds. The first time through litigation, the court held that once deeded to a revocable trust, the individual could no longer validly deed the property to anyone else. The court then reconsidered, and completely reversed itself. Instead, under the new rule, the condo was not ever a valid trust asset because it was an invalid devise of homestead property. Basically, the moment Mr. Aronson died, his homestead transferred to his wife as a life estate, and thereafter to his surviving sons (so, basically, the law coincided with the terms of the trust anyway).

If this sounds confusing, don't worry. It took ten years of litigation to figure all this out, and that involved a Florida Appeals Court having to reverse itself before getting the law right. Although this is confusing, much of the litigation in Aronson could have been avoided had Mr. Aronson used a qualified attorney to help him with his estate planning. Still, do not forget the endless array of possibilities that may arise in blended family situations.

Finally, it's worth noting that some of the law in this area changed in 2010 (many years after Aronson's litigation began). Now, instead of automatically taking a life estate, a surviving spouse has six months to opt out of the life estate and take a 50% share as a tenant in common of the homestead property. This option may be more beneficial for certain parties, and anyone in this situation should consider talking to an estate planning attorney for advice.

If you are in a similar situation, or if you have any estate planning questions, contact a Jacksonville Estate Planning Lawyer at Law Office of David M. Goldman PLLC.

August 28, 2012

Filing a Will Caveat

florida-case-law.jpgWill caveats: one more reason why hiring an attorney is a good idea for estate planning. Will caveats are, basically, objections to a will. For example, let's say Father dies, leaving his entire estate to his niece. That is awfully nice of him, but it probably won't make his two children happy. Taking it a step further, let's say Father had dementia when he died. Niece had moved in with him claiming she was going to take care of him, but the circumstances suggest she was just trying to dig for a little bit of gold from his estate. Now that Father has died, it looks like Niece's plan has worked. What are Father's children's options?

They can bring a will caveat action, effectively putting the will's probate on hold until the issues are resolved. Essentially, a caveat allows the interested party the ability to present evidence that something about the will makes it legally inoperable, and once a caveat is filed, the interested party must be allowed to present the evidence.

This was highlighted in a recent case, Rocca v. Boyansky, in which the court held that a party who made several late filings in court was nevertheless entitled to an evidentiary hearing before the will went to probate.

In Rocca, Mr. Rocca filed a caveat and was told he needed to respond 20 days after a certain date. He did not respond by that time, and the court granted him more time. He still didn't respond to the new date, but instead filed a motion about a week after the deadline had passed. The court, obviously frustrated, went ahead and brought the will to probate, concluding that Mr. Rocca had conceded his argument by failing to timely respond when twice asked to do so.

Fortunately for Mr. Rocca, the appellate court disagreed with the trial court. Instead of being a statute mandating certain time requirements, the statute governing caveats is not a statute of limitations. It is a statute that requires a hearing. The lower court was frustrated with Mr. Rocca, and rightfully so. He had delayed the court twice. Courts are busy, and it is never a good idea to do anything that would upset them. Yet, here was Mr. Rocca, doing probably the one thing that upsets courts most: making them reschedule. Nevertheless, the statute requires the court to reschedule in such a situation. The party filing the caveat has the right to a hearing.

At the end of the day, Mr. Rocca was able to present his evidence. But it should be noted that this case has been through litigation for several years, and it is unclear when it will stop. Had the decedent used an attorney when making his will, the caveat likely would not have been filed because the will would have been properly executed. It is very important that you contact an estate planning lawyer before taking any actions. Whether it's creating a will or challenging one in probate, a qualified attorney can help you get through the process.

August 27, 2012

The Benefits of being a "Reasonably Ascertainable" Creditor

florida-case-law.jpgServing as a personal representative to an estate comes with many rights and obligations (see Chapter 733 of the Florida Statutes). One of those duties, for example, involves contacting creditors of the deceased person and letting those creditors know of the death. Those creditors then have a period of time to file a claim to be paid. Whether or not they are ever paid depends upon a variety of factors, largely dependent upon the estate actually having money to pay them.

The personal representative's job can be somewhat difficult in notifying the creditors. Credit card loans and mortgage debts, for example, are pretty obvious: the bills probably come directly to the deceased person's home. The personal representative generally would not have a difficult time in figuring out whom to contact to let the lender know of the death.

Some lenders, however, are not so easy to find. This is an important distinction. If a lender is relatively easy to find, it is considered a "reasonably ascertainable" creditor and has two years after the estate's "notice of creditors" is published in order to file its claim. But, if the creditor is not "reasonably ascertainable," it has only three months to file its claim. In other words, if you're a creditor, you have some interest in being dubbed not "reasonably ascertainable," as it gives you more time to file your claim.

But whose job is it to define your status? Well, according to Florida's Second District Court of Appeals, the creditor essentially has the burden of proof. In Lubee v. Adams, a personal representative contacted several creditors to inform them of the death of a debtor. The personal representative did not contact Mr. Lubee. Mr. Lubee did not file a claim until about a year later, claiming he was a "reasonably ascertainable" creditor and the failure to receive notice of death meant he could file his claim any time within the two-year window afforded to other reasonably ascertainable creditors.

The personal representative had not identified Mr. Lubee as a "reasonably ascertainable" creditor; therefore, according to the court, Mr. Lubee had two options. Option A: Mr. Lubee could file his claim within the three-month window afforded to all creditors. Option B: Mr. Lubee could file for an extension of time within that two-year window. Option B would essentially provide Mr. Lubee with status as a "reasonably ascertainable" creditor, but the burden would be on Mr. Lubee to prove that status.

Mr. Lubee unfortunately did not choose either option, but instead simply tried to file a claim. Since the three months had passed, his claim was barred. Instead, he should have filed for an extension of time. While this would have required him to prove he was a "reasonably ascertainable" creditor, doing so would have been more beneficial than simply trying to file a claim that was destined to be thrown out.

Creditor's rights in probate proceedings can be complicated, as Mr. Lubee's case highlights. As always, a Jacksonville Probate Litigation Attorney can help answer any questions you have regarding probate procedures.