Articles Posted in Elective Share

The Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled this month that personal representatives of estates are no longer allowed to deduct attorney’s fees from a spouse’s elective share when litigating claims against the spouse’s stake in the inheritance.  This holding of this case means that a spouse’s inheritance may now be much larger due to avoiding attorney’s costly fees.

So what exactly is an elective share in Florida?  An elective share is a term that describes the portion of an estate that the surviving spouse of the deceased may claim through intestate succession or in place of what the spouse was left in the decedent’s will.  Florida passed this law to ensure that no surviving spouse could be left with nothing.  In Florida, a spouse is entitled to an amount equal to 30 percent of the elective estate.

Property that can be included in an elective share includes all property subject to estate administration in any state.  This can include: joint bank accounts, Totten trusts, property held in joint tenancy, revocable trusts, life insurance policies, pensions and retirement plans, and other property passing directly to a surviving spouse.

Modern estate planning has changed with the fabric of the modern American family. It is more common to now see scenarios such as estranged parents who stay married to raise children, or even married couples that live their lives completely separated from each other. A common question asked by many clients is can a spouse be disinherited from a will?

The general rule is that when a person makes a will they are able to dictate who receives their property after death. However, in Florida it may be very difficult to disinherit your spouse.

Even if the spouse and decedent are separated, the decedent’s surviving spouse is entitled to elect thirty percent of the decedent’s elective estate. This law was enacted to protect the surviving spouse from being left with nothing. The only way to circumvent an elective share would require a prenuptial, postnuptial agreement, or remove assets from the elective share. A prenuptial or postnuptial agreement can waive the surviving spouse’s right to receive a portion of the elective share.

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;

In Florida a spouse can elect to take 30% of the decedent’s elective estate. But what was not answered is what portion of the estate is that 30% applied to? The 5th District Court of Appeal of Florida has answered this question in the case of Paredes v. McLucas .

For example, if you are the spouse of the decedent, your Florida Probate Lawyer should go through the decedent’s records to find any claims that he may have had against him or her, and make a total. Next, there should be a total of mortgages, liens, and other similar devices. The claims and mortgages will be added together, then subtracted from the total amount of assets in the decedent’s estate. The elective share of 30% applies to only this amount. While this may seem simple there are many assets which are not included in a Florida Elective Share Calculation.

Doing the research is a technical and difficult process, especially in the wake of grieving over the deceased. You could contact a Jacksonville Probate lawyer to determine the exact figure, and the option you as the decedent’s spouse can take after that point.

Under ideal circumstances a husband and wife will agree to what the surviving spouse should receive when the other dies. However, many times when this doesn’t happen the surviving spouse receives a portion of the estate they are unsatisfied with. For example, an elderly couple who marries later in life may want to provide their grandchildren, so they leave 90% of their estate to them and 10% to their wife. In Florida, if the wife is unsatisfied with these conditions, she may make a claim for an elective share.

An elective share is statutorily defined as a right of the surviving spouse to a specific portion of the estate when he/she isn’t satisfied with the amount received under a Florida will. Taking a 30% elective share of the estate is something a surviving spouse has a right to in Florida. However, the elective share does not overcome a pre or post nuptial agreement between the husband and wife.

Many times the elective share consists of more than just the net probate estate. The assets subject to the elective share can be different than those subject to a probate and it is a complicated process to calculate what assets should be included in a Florida Elective Share. Therefore, the surviving spouse will receive 30% of the elective estate which include other property interests that pass outside of probate. To discuss what property is subject to the elective share and what amount may be due to you contact a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer or Florida Family Law Attorney to assist in the estate planning process.

In Florida, a surviving spouse is usually entitled to take an elective share of their spouse’s estate. This is to prevent one spouse from disinheriting the other. Unless there is a valid Prenuptial or Post Nuptial agreement in place, the surviving spouse is entitled to take 30% of the spouses entire elective estate.

Florida Statute § 732.2035 describes what property is included in the elective share of the decedent’s estate.

There are time requirements on filing for an elective share and failure to timely file may result in waiver of this option. To evaluate the effects of electing a Florida Elective Share, Contact a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer who is familiar with Florida Elective Share Litigation.

In Florida as with most states, Estate Planning is something that needs to be addressed when one has major changes in their life. This includes divorce and separation.

You only have to think about your spouse or ex-spouse getting all of your assets if you should die to realize the importance of addressing the issue.

In the last year I have seen a number of families who have been adversely affected because of a lack of planning. Several couples were separated for many years when one died and the estranged spouse received a significant portion of the estate. In Florida, even if you change you will to disinherit your spouse, the spouse is entitled to an elective share of your estate. This is equal to 30 percent of your entire estate. If you are divorced in theory, go ahead and file the paperwork to make it official.

Magee v. Magee, 32 Fla. L. Weekly 02307 (Fla. 2d DCA September 26, 2007)

In a challenge to the constitutionality of Florida’s elective share statutes, the Second District Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that the statute is constitutional. The Court applied a test of whether there is “any reasonable relationship between the act and the furtherance of a valid governmental objective,” and rejected the challenger’s argument that the “far more rigorous analysis” of whether the statute is “reasonably necessary to protect the public.” The Court found that the state has a strong public policy concerning protection of the surviving spouse about
marriage in existence at the time of the decedent’s death and that, therefore, the provisions of the elected chair statutes serve a legitimate legislative purpose. On February 20, 2008, the Florida Supreme Court refused to accept jurisdiction for an appeal of this decision.

How can you tell if a Will has been altered?

Most of the time you cannot tell by simply looking at the document. Often these documents are “tampered with” behind the scenes: friends, relatives, heirs or neighbors pressure, threaten or trick someone into changing, modifying or preparing a new Last Will and Testament or Codicil (an amendment to the Will). It takes an experienced lawyer to discover the facts and circumstances behind the preparation and execution (signing) of a Will.

Can a child be cut out of a Will?

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