Articles Posted in Enhanced Life Estate Deeds

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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In Florida, the primary residence is often protected by the Florida constitutional homestead protections.

While in many other states, a persons homestead is not protected from creditors and can be lost to claims for Medicaid reimbursement, this is not the case in Florida. The only creditors that can make a claim against the home are those that do something with the home. These may include a roofer or the bank which financed the home.

If you or a spouse needs nursing home case, selling the home can place that asset or the money received from the sale at risk to creditors as well as Medicaid eligibility. There are several methods of avoiding probate on your homestead. Choosing the right method is not an easy decision without knowing your facts and circumstances.

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.

Joseph Percope has written an article The Impact of Co-ownership on Florida Homestead in the Florida Bar Journal that discusses the tree kinds of homesteads defined in a 1997 Florida Supreme Court case: The tax exemption; The Protection from Creditors; and The restrictions on alienation of homestead property in Florida.

While most are primarily concerned with their tax breaks, as a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer we often deal with the second two more often in our planning. We see families attempting to avoid probate by adding kids on to deeds all the time. We also see parents who own part of their children’s homes. The problem begins when in either of these situations one or more of the owners does not live in the home. The home or at the ownership of the person not living in the home is subject to the claims of their creditors.

When no ownership percentage is specified, Florida will apply equal percentages of ownership to each person named on the deed. If a single person adds their child onto their deed as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, 50 percent of the equity in the home will be exposed to the creditors of the child who is not living in the home.

A Florida Enhanced Life Estate Deed (sometimes called “The Lady-Bird Deed” is a tool used by Florida Estate Planning Attorneys, Florida Elder Law Attorneys, and other by Florida Lawyers to preserve the homestead for the benefit of the family and avoid a Probate in Florida. Upon the death of the homeowner’s the property will pass to the people designated without the need for a costly probate process in much the same way as a bank account with a beneficiary designation.

Jacksonville Duval Clay Orange ParkWhy Use an Enhanced Life Estate Deed?

The Florida Enhanced Life Estate Deed provides a mechanism to bypass the probate process and thus the creditors. Under this document, the husband and/or wife retain a Life Estate Interest under which he or she retains the right to live on the property for their life. Unlike a Life estate, the husband and/or wife retain the right to sell, mortgage, convey, gift, or cancel the remainder interest at any time during their life. If there is any property interest upon the last to die of the husband and/or wife, the remainder will pass in fee simple to the designated individuals named in the deed.

Florida statutes define probate assets as those assets subject to a probate administration. There are several types of Probate in Florida which are discussed in our Free Florida Probate Handbook that you can request.

Often it is easier to define which assets are not subject to probate.

In Florida any asset with a surviving joint owner, valid payable on death designation, or contract clause which defines what happens to the asset upon death are not subject to probate. Often these include life insurance policies, annuities contract or retirement account with a transfer on death clause, jointly owned bank accounts, real estate with and valid beneficiary designation clause. One of the most common items that is not subject to probate is a Florida homestead. While a homestead is not devised through probate typically, title companies will often require it to be dealt with in a Florida probate to issue title insurance. The good news is unless you messed up your will or other documents, a Florida Homestead will not be subject to the claims of your creditors or the creditors of your beneficiaries if it is their homestead.

Can a Florida Quit Claim deed be recorded after death? Generally any deed can be recorded at any time even after the death of the grantor. However there can be problems created by the delay in filing. First, we often see that the deeds were never delivered and as such are ineffective and not a valid conveyance of the property. In addition, the deeds can be wrong or incomplete and create problems that the grantor is not alive to fix. Third, there is now a requirement in Florida to update the property appraiser with any change in beneficial ownership. Generally the reason why deeds were not recorded in the past was to avoid loss of homestead and keep property taxes lower. Florida’s new requirement places penalties on this type of fraud, whether done intentionally or not.

You should have your deeds reviewed by a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer to make sure you are using the right type of deed, are protected from creditors, are not creating additional liability, are not creating unreported gifts and are accomplishing your goals.

While in Florida a lawyer is not required to create a valid deed like a ladybird deed or Florida Enhanced Life Estate Deed it may be a good idea to have a lawyer or attorney review these specific document because of their propensity for errors and the bad or unexpected outcome that would occur with an invalid or incorrect Florida Enhanced Life Estate Deed.

1. A lawyer can check to make sure that the deeds are executed with the formality required under Florida Statutes.

2. That an Florida Enhanced Life Estate Deed is the best method of accomplishing your goals. With property with larger mortgages, a deed of this type may not be the best or most affordable method for transferring the property upon the death of the owners because of the mortgage taxes in Florida.

One of the most common questions people ask about Florida Lady Bird Deeds (Florida Enhanced Life Estate Deeds) is whether upon the death of the grantor, the contingent beneficiaries receive a stepped up basis like they would receive if the property was to transfer under a will.

Under Section 2036 of the IRS code, the life estate portion of the Lady Bird Deed causes inclusion in the estate of the decedent. Because of the taxable inclusion in the state there is stepped up basis under the Internal Revenue Code. It is possible that this section of the code might be changed at some time in the future and you should verify this with your tax professional.

Florida Statute 193.1556 requires that any changes regarding a person or entity owning real property under Florida Statute 193.1554 or Florida Statute 193.1555 are reported to the property appraiser.

This may affect some Florida Enhanced Life Estate Deeds. Under Florida Statute 193.1554(5), If the property is nonhomestead residential property, there is an exemption for the transfer between husband and wife, including transfer to a surviving spouse or a transfer due to a dissolution of marriage. The transfer to a revocable trust will not trigger a new assessment at fair market value.

On the other hand for all residential and non-residential property which is not protected by homestead there doesn’t appear to be the same exemption under Florida Statute 193.1555(5).

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