March 15, 2012

Estate Planning Tips For Gun Collectors - Gun Trust Lawyer®

If you own firearms and have done estate planning, you might want to review your planning with a Gun Trust Lawyer®. About 5 years ago, I recognized the problems that are inherent with traditional estate planning (wills, revocable trusts, or the default planning offered by each state) as they relate to firearms.

Most Estate Planning is designed to deal with financial instruments and not the issues that surround the purchase, transfer, possession, and use of firearms.

Did you know that you will or trust probably contains language that instructs your family and friends to break the law after you die? Before you put your family and friends at risk of violating the law or giving a firearm to someone who you would not want to hand a gun, you should talk to your Florida Estate Planning Lawyer about creating a Gun Trust.

While gun trusts are great for regular firearms they have additional advantages when it comes to the purchase, use, possession, and transfer of the more restricted firearms like those sold by Dealers with Class 3 SOT licenses.

To learn more about Gun Trusts, visit the NFA Gun Trust Lawyer® blog

March 5, 2012

Attempt to Avoid Probate Earns Medicaid Applicant Penalty Period

Often in an attempt to avoid a relatively small probate fee, individuals can create huge penalty periods and taxable issues for themselves. Take for instance, a woman in New York who, two years before applying for Medicaid, transferred money from her account to an account with a co-owner. Transferring individually owned funds to an account with joint tenants is a common way to avoid a Florida Probate.

While her estate planning attorney seems to have given the advice, he was not aware of the problems that estate planning techniques to avoid probate can have on Medicaid eligibility.

Not only can transfers like this have problems for the individual making the transfer, but they can also create problems for the beneficiary or the new co-owner who will now have additional assets in their name, that may disqualify them from government benefits like Medicaid.

Before you try to save a few dollars and do what worked for your parents or friends, you may want to discuss your circumstances with a Jacksonville Estate Planning Lawyer who is familiar with Medicaid and Elder law issues.

February 29, 2012

What are Florida Advance Directives?

Advance directives.jpgYou asked and a Jacksonville Estate Planning Lawyer will advise you that according to Florida Law, an "Advance directive" means a witnessed written document or oral statement in which instructions are given by a principal or in which the principal's desires are expressed concerning any aspect of the principal's health care, and includes, but is not limited to, the designation of a health care surrogate, a living will, or an anatomical gift.

A Health Care Surrogate is chosen by the principal to act for the principal and to make all health care decisions for him or her during the principal's incapacity. The health care surrogate has the authority to consult with appropriate health care providers, to provide informed consent, to provide written consent, to be provided access to the appropriate medical records of the principal, and to apply for public benefits, such as Medicare and Medicaid on behalf of the principal.

The written designation of health care shall be signed by the principal in the presence of two adult witnesses. The person designated as surrogate shall not act as witness to the execution of the document designating the health care surrogate. At least one person who acts as a witness shall be neither the principal's spouse nor a blood relative. It is strongly suggested that the execution of the designation of health care surrogate be done in front of a notary.

A Living Will made be executed by any competent adult. It is a declaration concerning the providing, withholding, or withdrawal of life-prolonging procedures in the event that a person has a terminal condition, has an end-stage condition, or is in a persistent vegetative state. A living will must be signed by the principal in the presence of two witnesses, one of whom is neither a spouse nor a blood relative of the principal. It is strongly suggested that the execution of the living will be done in front of a notary.

In determining whether a patient has a terminal condition, an end-stage condition, or is in a persistent vegetative state, or may recover capacity, the patient's attending or treating physician and at least one other consulting physician must separately examine the patient. The findings of each such examination are then documented in the patient's medical record and signed by each examining physician before life-prolonging procedures may be withheld or withdrawn.

An "Anatomical gift" or "gift" means a donation of all or part of a human body, to take effect after the donor's death and to be used for transplantation, therapy, research, or education. Chapter 765 of the Florida Statutes has a comprehensive listing of provisions that detail everything one needs to consider when contemplating an anatomical gift.

Now that you know what "Advance Directives" are, contact a Jacksonville Estate Planning Lawyer to have your advance directives prepared today.

February 27, 2012

Elder Law Lawyers look to Alzheimers Research

happy_elderly_couple_americare.jpgAs Jacksonville Elder Law Lawyers, we are always looking for the most effective and least restrictive ways in which to serve the needs of our Jacksonville elderly. We keep current of the Florida statutes and the numerous Florida cases which interpret matters involving Florida's senior citizens.

Elder law encompasses many aspects, including estate planning, guardianship, medicaid issues, and of course, health care issues. As Florida Elder Law Attorneys, we also look to various research and articles throughout the nation which focuses on issues related to aging.

Recently an interesting article caught our attention dealing with coconut oil and it's effect on those suffering with dementia and Alzheimers. We want to share information we learn of that may have a positive impact on your lives. This article addresses alternative medical treatment.

Coconut oil, once thought to be harmful due to elevating cholesterol levels, actually has numerous positive influences on human health. While pure non hydrogenated coconut oil does in fact raise cholesterol levels it is the good (HDL) cholesterol that is influenced. Although there is little evidence at this point to support it, some leading researchers believe that Alzheimer's, dementia, ADHD and other central nervous system impairments can be helped with the use of pure coconut oil.

Glucose is the primary nutritional source for brain cells. Some conditions impair the body's ability to utilize glucose and as a consequence brain cells do not function optimally and will ultimately die.

Recent research along with antidotal testimonials suggest that the median chain triglycerides can provide a source of ketone to brain cells that acts as an alternative to glucose. Some patients with Alzheimer's and dementia have seen improvement in cognitive, emotional and physical function with the use of pure coconut oil.

If you would like information or direction with an elderly person in your life, consult with a Jacksonville Elder Law Lawyer.

February 2, 2012

7 Documents you Want Prepared Before you Die

untitled.bmpYou have heard it all before again and again. The reason for the repetition is . . . there really are 7 estate planning documents that should be prepared before one dies.

A Jacksonville Estate Planning lawyer will provide you with story after story that have no happy endings. These stories begin with people who talked about contacting a lawyer to have legal documents prepared, but never did.

The documents you need to consider today are:

  1. Last Will and Testament: This document allows you to name a guardian for your minor children in the event of your death, distributes your property to the people you want to inherit, allows you to donate to charity, among other provisions.
  2. Living Will: If you remember the Terri Schiavo Florida case, you will recall 7 years of court battles regarding life-prolonging procedures keeping Terri alive, after being diagnosed as in a persistent vegetative state. If a Living Will (which allows you to declare what, if any life-prolonging technology you desire) was in place, this costly, exhaustive and emotional fight would never have happened.
  3. Do-Not-Resuscitate Order (DNR): This document is state specific and it must be prepared in strict compliance with Florida Law. If prepared properly, it alerts medical professionals not to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a patient when he/she stops breathing or the heart stops beating in specific medical conditions (end state renal disease, terminal cancer).
  4. Designation of Health Care Surrogate: This document allows you to name the person(s) you want to make health care decisions for you in the event that you are incapacitate or too ill to make these decisions yourself. If this document is not in place, the default health care substitute chosen may very well be someone you do not want to serve.
  5. Authorization to Release Health-Care Information: We have all heard of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996). This federal privacy rule provides protection for personal health care information. This law is so strict that if you have not executed a HIPAA Release even your health care surrogate or proxy will be unable to obtain and review your records.
  6. Trust Documents: There are numerous trusts for different types of situations. In general terms, a trust is utilized whereby property is held by one party for the benefit of another. For a listing of the various trusts available and their purpose, visit Jacksonville Trusts Attorney.
  7. Letter of Instruction: This document can be as simple or detailed as you desire. It can contain directions as to your burial and cremation wishes, organ donation wishes, and who you would like to care for your pets.

Don't let another day pass, contact a Jacksonville Estate Planning Lawyer.

January 31, 2012

Gay and Lesbian Parents Need Estate Planning

Rainbow families.jpgRaising and caring for your children is difficult enough without the additional complications that arise when you are bringing up children in a same-sex relationship. Inherent rights afforded to "straight" or heterosexual couples are non-existent for gay couples. The lack of legal rights for those in relationships not recognized by the State of Florida, will effect your property rights, your health care decisions, the distribution of your assets after death, and most importantly, your children.

If you are not the legally recognized or biological parent of a child, there are several legal documents you can utilize to provide you the authority you need.

A Last Will and Testament will enable you to name your choice of guardian for your minor child in the event of your death or incapacity. A Pre-Need Guardian Designation lends additional proof of your choice of guardian for your child(ren). An Authorization and Power of Attorney for Child Care will enable the person of your choice to have the authority to make decisions for and care for your children when you are unavailable. Unavailable may mean incapacity, or being out of town, or otherwise engaged elsewhere.

For additional documents and methods of ensuring that the "non-legal" parent's relationship with his or her children are protected, contact a Jacksonville Gay and Lesbian Estate Planning Lawyer to schedule a time to talk.

January 31, 2012

When if Formal Notice Used in a Florida Probate

There are certain times when a Probate case can use Formal Notice to reduce the time required and other times when it is required. Formal notice is defined by the Florida Probate Code to be notice which is sent by via certified mail to each interested person. Sometimes notice can be by publication when the whereabouts of a particular interested person or entity cannot be determined. This notice by publlication requires a much longer time period to the party to object than the 20 days when an interested party is serverd by formal notice. Some examples of when Formal Notice can or will be used include:

Petition for Administration
Petition to Determine Beneficiaries
Petition to Revoke The Probate of A Will
Petition to Probate Lost Will
Petition to Construe Will
Petition to Remove A Personal Representative
Petition to Surcharge Personal Representative
Petition to Cancel a Devise

January 30, 2012

Is Non Probate separate Property That Increases in Value During a Marriage Part of the Elective Share Calculation?

The 2nd District Court of Appeals for Florida held in McDonald v Johnson that the increase in a company stock value that happened during the marriage can be used to determine the value of an elective share calculation. The lower court ruled that the surviving spouse had no right to discovery of a company's financial information because the company stock was not subject to probate. The 2nd DCA found that Section 742.2155(6)(c) excluded non-martial assets as defined in Section 61.075. Because the increase in value of an asset that happens during a marriage is a martial asset, they concluded that the spouse was entitled to do discovery that was necessary to determine if it would be to her benefit to claim an elective share.

Section 732.2155(6) provides as follows:
Sections 732.201-732.2155 do not affect any interest in property held, as of the decedent's death, in a trust, whether revocable or irrevocable, if:

(a) The property was an asset of the trust at all times between October 1, 1999, and the date of the decedent's death;
(b) The decedent was not married to the decedent's surviving spouse when the property was transferred to the trust; and
(c) The property was a non-marital asset as defined in s. 61.075 immediately prior to the decedent's death.

The courts reasoning is as follows:

We conclude that the fact that section 732.2155(6)(c) cites to section 61.075 without a specific citation to the subsection defining non-marital property indicates the legislature's intent that the entire statute, which defines both marital and non-marital property, is to be considered in determining whether the property in the revocable trust was non-marital at the time of death. The definition of marital assets includes "[t]he enhancement in value and appreciation of non-marital assets resulting either from the efforts of either party during the marriage or from the contribution to or expenditure thereon of marital funds or other forms of marital assets, or both." § 61.075(6)(a)(1)(b), Fla. Stat. (2010). In other words, if the value of the MCC stock in the decedent's revocable trust increased pursuant to the terms of section 61.075(6)(a)(1)(b), that increase would not be excluded from the elective share under section 732.2155(6)(c). Thus, to the extent the information sought by the surviving spouse is necessary to her determination whether the MCC stock value was enhanced during the marriage due to the efforts of the decedent, it is relevant.

January 15, 2012

Gay Marriage a Looming Possibility in Washington State

gay-marriage-rights.jpgFlorida Gay couples await the possibility of a seventh state to legalize gay marriage, as the Washington State Governor introduced legislation on gay marriage early this month. At a news conference Governor Chris Gregoire stated, "Our gay and lesbian families face the same hurdles as heterosexual families - making ends meet, choosing what school to send their kids to, finding someone to grow old with, standing in front of friends and family and making a lifetime commitment."

For gay couples all over the country, including Florida, a state marriage license is very important. It gives same-sex couples the right to enter into a marriage contract in which their legal interests, and those of their children, if any, are protected by civil law.

For now, those in gay relationships in the Sunshine State will have to make do by protecting their own interests. This can be accomplished through a variety of legal documents. If you are a lesbian or gay man living in or around Jacksonville, Florida, take time to contact a Jacksonville Gay and Lesbian Issues Lawyer who focuses on LGBT documents to ensure that your rights, whether they pertain to health care, property, or your death are protected.

January 4, 2012

Tortious Interference with an Expected Inheritance in Florida

Often before the death, a spouse or someone else in control of assets attempts to rearrange the assets so that it will benefit them and in doing so it can interfere with the desires of the decedent.

In these situations, the prospective beneficiaries who have been damaged have the right to bring a cause of action against the person who manipulated the decedent's assets.

Some examples of this type of activity include cashing out insurance policies, paying bills our of one account but not another, removing funds from one account and transferring them to another in which they are the beneficiary. Selling or disposing of assets that would go to one beneficiary and converting them to cash what is distributed in another manner.

In a recent appeal over this issue it was made clear that it is not enough to have shown that someone engaged in this type of wrongful activity, but also must provide legally admissible evidence of the damage that was caused to the beneficiaries. Failure to show damages, a required element of the claim, subjected the case to a directed verdict and final judgment of dismissal.

If you are considering a claims against someone who has interfered with your expectancy, you should contact a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer who understands the elements of the cause of action as well as the ability to gather and introduce legally admissible evidence.

December 22, 2011

How do I file a Claim Against a Florida Trust?

In Florida, a creditor may open a probate to reach assets of a decedent which were kept in a trust. The trustee of a decedent's trust is responsible to file a notice of trust with the probate court. If you are unsuccessful in having the trust pay the debts directly, you can open a probate on behalf of the estate, file your claims and are entitled to be reimbursed for the legal expenses related to the opening of the probate. See Florida Statute 736.05053. Remember that failure to file a claim within 2 years of the decedents death can waive your rights to file a claim in the probate court.

If you are owned money by a decedent and can not figure out how to file a claim, contact a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer to discuss your options.

December 9, 2011

Will Contests: Are Foreign WIlls Valid in Florida?

In Florida a Will must be in writing, signed by the signed by the testator and authenticated by two witnesses. Florida does not recognize holographic wills that are valid in another state if they do not meet the above requirements. Other than holographic wills, Florida will recognize a will that was validly created in another country.

Therefore a foreign will other than a holographic will is valid in Florida and holographic wills created in anther state or country which are signed by the testator and authenticated by two witnesses are also valid in Florida.

There are three ways in which a will can be contested in Florida.


  1. Undue Influence;

  2. Testamentary Capacity;

  3. Failure to Execute with the Required Formalities.


The above example would involve Failure to Execute with the Required Formalities.
Florida Statute 732.502 defines the requirements that a testator must follow to create a valid will. Carefull attention need to be paid to a will that was not executed in Florida, or an old will to make sure that the requirements were followed at the time the will was created and not necessarily the current requirements.

In addition, a foreign will could be challenged under testamentary capacity. To have the proper testamentary capacity to make a will in Florida you must be of sound mind and either an emancipated minor or more than 18 years of age. Sound mind is having the mental ability to understand the making of a will, knowing what your assets are, and being able to choose who is going to receive them. You do not have to understand it later, but only have a lucid moment at the time you execute the document. If there is a question about mental capacity, it is a good idea to ask questions, and document the answers at the time the will is signed to create evidence of mental capacity for any future dispute.

The third type of will contest deals with undue influence. This happens when a beneficiary or another person causes a person to change a will to the detriment of another person. These are very hard cases to prove but do occur. Often a family member, caregiver, friend, or neighbor with access to a person can cause them to change a will with undue influence.

If you are considering contesting a will in Florida, you should discuss your situation with a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer to determine what your options are.

December 6, 2011

Democrats to Introduce Bill to Lower Estate Tax Exemption to $1 Million

Jim McDermott and the House Democrats introduced a bill to extend the estate tax beyond 2012. The proposal would reduce the current estate tax exemption from $5 million to just 1 million and raise the estate tax rate from 35% to a top rate of 55%.

The bill also contains restrictions on Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts :


  • Minimum 10 year term;

  • Annuity payment cannot be reduced from one year to the next during the first 10 years of the GRAT term; and

  • The remainder interest at the time of the transfer must have "a value greater than zero.''

  • The bill contains no guidance regarding the parameters of the "greater than zero" requirement.

  • Effective for transfers made after the date of enactment.

The bill would also limit discount on minority interest in companies or investments:


  • For the transfer of an interest in an entity which is not actively traded, no valuation discount would be allowed with respect to "non business assets";

  • For the transfer of an interest in an entity which is not actively traded, no discount would be allowed by reason of the fact that the transferee does not have control of the entity if the transferee and the transferee's family members have control of the entity.

  • Effective with regard to transfers after the date of enactment.



"It really is a question of clarity," for both families and planners, McDermott said. "The question is how to bring fairness into it."

Under McDermott's proposal, co-sponsored by Rep. Charles Rangel , the exemption for married couples would drop to $2 million from current level of $10 million. A surviving spouses could still claim the remainder of their partner's exemption if some remains unused after death. The rate and $1 million exemption would be adjusted for inflation, beginning at the 2000 level.

The bill would also unify the estate and gift taxes. That means a taxpayer would only have a single exemption of $1 million for their estate and most gifts. The legislation also includes several provisions from Obama's last budget proposal to end targeted estate tax breaks.

While there are not many days left this year, it might be beneficial to make larger gifts today to lock in the 5 Million dollar gift exemption in place now. To discuss how this could change your existing estate tax planning, contact a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer to discuss your specifics.

December 2, 2011

What are the duties and responsibilities of the Personal Representative in Florida?

Once the personal representative (PR or executor) is appointed by a Florida court, takes the oath of office, and posts bond (if required), then he or she is authorized to administer the decedent's estate. A Florida personal representative has a fiduciary responsibility to the creditors, the IRS, and the beneficiaries for proper administration of the estate. The personal representative must not comingle the estate's funds with his or her own funds, and needs to be fully accountable for all of the decedent's property during the administration of the estate. The personal representative may sell some or all of the assets of the estate to raise cash to pay the debts and expenses of the estate, if necessary or appropriate.

The personal representative is obligated to:

a) Identify, gather, value, and safeguard the assets.
b) Publish the "notice to creditors" in a local newspaper, giving creditors an opportunity to file claims relating to the estate.
c) Serve "notice of administration" on specific persons, giving information about the estate and giving notice of requirements to file any objections relating to the estate.
d) Conduct a diligent search to locate "known or reasonably ascertainable" creditors, and notify them of the time by which their claims must be filed.
e) Contact the Social Security Administration and the Veteran's Administration to apply for any death benefits or survivor benefits for which the decedent's estate may be eligible.
f) Locate insurance policies and apply for benefits if the proceeds are payable to the estate.
g) Contact the decedent's employer and any club or fraternal organization to which the decedent may have belonged to determine if the estate or surviving family members are entitled to any benefits.
h) Examine the circumstances surrounding the decedent's death to determine if there are any claims against third parties, which need to be asserted or preserved, such as claims for wrongful death or worker's compensation.
i) Collect rents, accounts receivable, interest, dividends and other income due to the decedent prior to death and that becomes due to the estate thereafter.
j) Assume the responsibility for any litigation or settlement of pending lawsuits in which the decedent had an interest.
k) Keep the property of the estate in good repair.
l) Keep the estate property invested properly until the administration is complete.
m) Locate and access any safe deposit boxes in the decedent's name.
n) Object to improper claims and defend suits brought on such claims.
o) Pay the valid claims.
p) File all past due and current tax returns.
q) Pay the taxes.
r) Employ necessary professionals to assist in the administration of the estate.
s) Pay the expenses of administration.
t) Distribute the statutory amounts or assets to the surviving spouse or family if claims are made.
u) Distribute the appropriate assets to beneficiaries.
v) Close the probate administration.


No personal representative shall be compelled to pay the debts of the decedent until after the expiration of five (5) months from the first publication of notice to creditors and is obligated to make payment of expenses of administration and creditors' claims against the estate in accordance with the priorities set forth in §733.707, Fla. Stat.

December 1, 2011

What are the Different Types of Probate in Jacksonville Florida?

There are 4 types of probate in Florida

1) Disposition without Administration.
This type of probate can only be used when the assets are less than the funeral bills and last medical expenses. This is available only if estate assets consist solely of property classified as exempt from the claims of the decedent's creditors by applicable law and non-exempt personal property, the value of which does not exceed the total of:


  1. up to $6,000 in funeral expenses; and

  2. the amount of all reasonable and necessary medical and hospital expenses incurred in the last 60 days of the decedent's final illness.

Very few estates will qualify for this type of disposition. The steps involved in a Disposition without Administration are preparing documents and filing them along with a copy of the paid funeral bill.

The current court costs are $231 and the legal fees for this type of probate are the lowest of the three types of probates.

The approximate time frame is less than 30 days.

2) Summary Administration.

This type of probate can only be used when the total value of the assets subject to probate are $75,000 or less, or when the decedent has been dead for more than two years. The steps involved in a summary administration are preparing the documents, publishing notice to creditors, determining homestead (if applicable) and having the funds distributed to creditors and beneficiaries per the court order.

The current court costs are $345, and publication costs range from $30 to $300 depending on the county and newspaper (most are around $150).

The approximate time frame is three to five months unless extraordinary circumstances such as a will contest occur. The estate cannot be closed while litigation is pending.

3) Formal Administration.

This type of probate is for all other estates or whenever a personal representative is required for other purposes. The steps involved in a formal administration are preparing the documents, getting a personal representative appointed, publishing notice to creditors, filing an inventory of the estate, determining homestead (if applicable), distributing the assets to creditors and beneficiaries, and closing the estate.
If you need Letters of Administration for any reason, or if the estate will be subject to litigation, you should open a formal administration.

The current court costs are $400, and publication costs range from $30 to $300 depending on the county and newspaper (most are around $150).

The approximate time frame is four to twelve months unless extraordinary circumstances such as litigation occur. The estate cannot be closed while litigation is pending.

4) Ancillary Administration.

Ancillary administrations are for secondary probate administrations when the decedent's primary estate was in another state, but there was also real property in Florida. Ancillary administrations follow the same procedures as a summary administration or formal administration depending on the date of death, value of the real property, and whether a personal representative is necessary.

The approximate time frames are the same as for the summary or formal administrations above. The estate cannot be closed while litigation is pending.