In March, the Florida governor approved a new law called the Florida Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which allows the loved ones of a decedent to access any digital assets he or she may have owned before death.  This allows loved ones to access the recently deceased’s text messages, emails, online photographs, social media, and other electronic communications that would have otherwise been lost forever.

The act also allows Florida residents to plan for the management and disposition of digital assets should they become incapacitated or unable to manage their digital assets.  Should either of these events happen, a person can grant an authorized fiduciary the power to access, control, or copy digital assets and accounts.

The Definition of Digital Assets

Digital assets under this Act are any electronic record that Florida resident has a right or interest in.  This definition does not include any underlying assets or liabilities of the electronic asset.  Examples of digital assets include information recorded on a computer or other digital device such as an external hard drive.

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One question the most frequent questions our Jacksonville estate planning lawyers receive is how long does a probate case in Florida take? Often the best answer to how long a Florida Probate Case takes is “it depends.”  The answer usually depends on how vast and complex the decedent’s estate is if there are a lot of beneficiaries or if there is any litigation involved the estate.

A Probate Case in Florida Can End Quickly or Take Years to Complete

A probate case in Florida can be quick if the estate is small and there are not any complicated procedural issues.  Simple estates can be fully probated in as little as a few weeks or as long as few months. Something the county where the probate case is located can affect how long a Florida Probate case takes
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This year the Florida Probate Rules Committee has a added a few new rules to the Probate Code. Many of these rules are minor amendments to the old rules or clarifications of previously vague language. The biggest change to the code was the addition of a separate rule for Guardian Accounting under 5.696. This means there are now different rules for guardian accountings from the other types of probate accountings.

Below is a summary of the 2016 amendments to the Florida Probate Rules

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The general rule in estate planning is that if something is not in writing it usually will not be legally valid.  For instance, Florida law requires a Will or trust must be in writing to be effective.  However, one question we often receive is if a promise to create a will or trust is enforceable by a court?

The answer is a promise can be enforceable. However, certain conditions would have to occur.  To further explain, the promise would have to meet the formal requirements of a contract.  A contract, whether written or oral, must have three elements to be enforceable.
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Florida offers some of the strongest homestead protection laws in all of the United States.  When a resident of Florida dies, the law protects the surviving spouse and minor children from becoming homeless by preventing the decedent from giving his or her estate to someone else through a Will or Trust.  However, a recent court ruling may have weakened the homestead law.

These laws provided by the Florida Constitution are strong, but there are some limitations by recent court decisions.  A Florida Probate Court created a limitation in the case of Marger v. De Rosa, 57 So. 3d 866, 866 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2011) where a mother and son owned a home as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.   The son, Mr. De Rosa, had two minor children when he purchased the home with his mother.  A few years later he died with no surviving spouse, two minor children, and an adult child.
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Florida Trust Code & the Florida Long Arm Statute

There are many estate planning benefits for creating a revocable or irrevocable trust in Florida. Trusts can help our Jacksonville clients avoid probate, efficiently manage assets, save money on estate taxes, and protect assets. A person can create a trust in any state, but Florida is unique because of the Statutes that make up the Florida Trust Code.

One of these is the Florida Trust Code’s long arm statute. This law can be found under Florida Statute 762.0202, is a law that was specifically tailored to protect Florida trusts in litigation. This law states that a Florida probate court will decide just about any lawsuit or litigation involving a trust created in Florida.

As a Jacksonville elder law attorney we often run across phone scams that target the elderly.  Besides the typical IRS and credit card scams the Department of Elder Affairs is warning Florida residents to watch out for scam artists who are allegedly making calls pretending to be the Department or an organization they refer to as Senior Services. These callers are using a method known as “spoofing” to make it appear on Caller ID as if the call is coming from a number belonging to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs’ fax line – (850) 414-2004.
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A Florida Ladybird deed has become one of the increasingly most used estate planning tools by the some of best Jacksonville estate planning attorneys.  One common questions we receive at our Jacksonville estate planning law firm  is how the Ladybird deed works under Florida’s current homestead protections.

In Florida, a Ladybird deed is also known as an enhanced life estate deed.  This type of deed permits a person or family that owns real estate, most often a home, to transfer a future interest in the property while keeping a present interest. This type of transfer permits the person to live on the property until he or she dies.   A Ladybird deed is special because it allows the enhanced life estate holder more power than a standard life estate holder.  Unlike the standard life estate deed, the ladybird deed allows the life tenant (typically the original owner) to sell, convey, or mortgage the property and the holder is not liable to the future interest holders for misuse of the property.
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One question the top Jacksonville elder law and estate planning attorneys often receive is who can make burial arrangements in Florida. Does it have to be the next of kin, or can any family member or interested party make funeral arrangements? Another similar question we often receive is what happens if a family member refuses to sign for burial rights? This article should answer these issues by explaining the current Florida law.

Luckily, Florida law has tried to clear up any burial issues by codifying an extensive set of rules for burial rights. A person can find the relevant law under Florida Statute 497.005 (43). The first part of this statute defines some important terms under the law. For instance, the law defines “human remains” as the body of a deceased human person that requires a death certificate or fetal death certificate, and the body is in a stage of decomposition.

The primary section needed to solve these questions is found under number 43, which is the definition of “legally authorized person.” This definition is a priority list for what individual can make funeral arrangements. According to the statute, the decedent, or the dead person, has priority to make the choice. This means during the decedent lifetime he or she authorized a particular burial plan through an estate planning document. This type of authorization is likely found in a Living Will or another form of an advanced directive. For example, a common type of burial authorization will be a listed preference for burial or cremation.

I have recently become acquainted with a bank who does business very different than traditional banks.  As we do Trust funding for many of our estate planning, elder law, and asset protection packages, we have the opportunity to interact with many banks around the area.  One of the recent banks that I have been impressed with because of their understanding of revocable and irrevocable trusts is Seacoast Bank.  There interest rates much higher than many of the local banks and offer trust services at a good value.  They recently interviewed me about Florida estate planning and asset protection and here is the link to the interview.

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