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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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