In Florida a Will does more than you may at first realize. Florida Wills are not just for leaving specific items to specific people. The main function of a Florida will is to provide for the distribution of property owned by you at the time of your death in whatever manner you choose.

Wills take on various degrees of complexity and can be used to achieve a wide range of financial and family objectives. If a will provides for the outright distribution of assets, it is sometimes characterized as a simple will. Wills can also establish one or more trusts to help manage the assets after you are gone. A will in Florida may also leave assets to a trust that was created while you were alive (known as an inter vivos trust), in which case it is called a Florida pour over will. In either case, the purpose of the trust arrangement is often to ensure continued property management and creditor protection for the surviving family members, to provide for charities, and to minimize taxes.

Aside from providing for the intended disposition of your property., there are a number of other important objectives that may be accomplished in a Florida will.

The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article this weekend examining the extent to which gift givers can exert control over their heirs once they are dead and gone. The article reveals several things that might surprise you given the scope of control that can be included in the language of Florida trusts and Florida wills.

The Journal explained that the issue is of special importance given the unusually favorable estate and gift tax rules that are set to soon expire. Currently, the exemption is $5.12 million per person, and twice that for a couple. The top tax rate applied to amounts beyond that number comes in at 35%. Not for long, the article warns, as the current exemption is scheduled to drop to $1 million and the top tax rate will jump to 55% come January 1, 2012. Given the state of affairs, expert recommend acting now, especially when it comes to giving gifts, as such moves made now can be grandfathered in if the law later becomes less favorable in the future.

There are limits to what a person can do when laying out their estate plan and one example includes provisions that are contrary to public policy. This includes requirements that promote divorce or demand criminal conduct and has been expanded to include racial discrimination. Provisions that discourage marriage have also historically be deemed unacceptable as well as any that are ambiguous, illegal or essentially impossible to implement. Religious restrictions are usually OK, like those leaving money to pay for a religious education, though they can, at times, be viewed with more suspicion.

civil_digging600.jpgAs a Jacksonville Estate Planning and Elder Law Lawyer, not much comes as a surprise anymore, not even the few requests for un-burying the deceased. It may sound like a B rated movie, but the reasoning behind the requests I have received are heartfelt and compelling.

One family wanted to remove their beloved father from a nondescript cemetery to a Veterans cemetery. One family wants to bring their grandfather (who was married to their grandmother for 50 years) home to the family plot, where their beloved grandmother lies in wait for him. The reasons are varied, but most meaningful to the families making the requests.

Florida disinterment is governed by Florida Statutes Chapter 497, Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services. The statute prescribes the authorization, notification, and other procedures that must be followed to enable one to disinter a family member. The process of Florida Disinterment is further governed by the Florida Department of Financial Services, Board of Funeral and Cemetery Services, found in the Florida Administrative Code, Chapter 69K.

If you have more than 1 million dollars or 2 million dollars of January 2013, you may find that part of your estate will be subject to an estate tax of 55% and in some states subject to additional estate taxes and or inheritance taxes. (Florida does not have either state tax).

Many estate plans have been written with formulas that remove a portion of the assets when the first spouse dies. Those formulas are often based on the current federal estate tax exemption. They either pass the amount of the exemption to the spouse, and remove the excess or remove the amount of the exemption and give the rest to the spouse.

In 2010, these formulas were often broken because there was no estate tax. One family who had sold their stores to Best Buy a few years before was affected by this issue.

On a regular basis we handle probate cases for families where the decedent tried to make their own will or tried to modify it themselves. Below is an example of a will that was created from a form or copied from someone else. While the will was validly signed as required in Florida and created a valid will, the person forgot to dispose of all of their property. It appears that of the provisions made, the person wanted to take care of their spouse first, then distribute $100 to one child and everything else to the other child.

Unfortunately the biggest asset in the estate, the decedent’s home was not devised in the will and thus would pass under the state’s intestate statutes. This will give the child that was to be disinherited 1/2 of the homestead.

Click to see a copy of theBad Florida Will

Thumbnail image for signhere.jpgThe following are a list of some critical issues to consider before you make the big decision to sign a power of attorney:

  1. Asset Protection – Nursing home costs in Florida can be outrageously expensive. Make sure that you really feel comfortable authorizing your agent to protect your assets from those costs. If you do, the agent may need to transfer ownership of certain assets to your spouse or children. Such authority must be clearly laid out in the power of attorney, and standard forms typically do not include this provision. Special powers need to be included to make these types of transactions.

  2. Health Care Issues – A health care power of attorney can allow your agent to make all kinds of health and personal care decisions for you whenever you are incapacitated. You can include instructions not only regarding end-of-life care, but also other situations that may arise. With a power of attorney your agent will be able to act for you even if you are not terminally ill or permanently unconscious. It is a good idea to give your agents some indication as to what your preferences are for daily activities. Without such instructions, you may not be doing what you want to do or participating in activities that you would prefer not to.

    Your agent should be someone who understands your values and who will be willing to advocate for your wishes in whatever situation may arise. Your agent can review the circumstances, consult with the health care providers, consider the prognosis, and then apply your wishes as set forth in the document when making decisions.

We see many problems with how homes are titled. Most are in attempt to avoid probate or make it easier on family members. Unfortunately, many of these cause real problems for family members in the future. Here is one example of something we see regularly.

Imagine this: You’re retired, your only significant asset is your home, you’re very close to your child or children, and you don’t want the cost of creating an estate plan. In such cases, what’s the harm of simply putting your home in the name of your child to avoid probate and then be done with it?

We’ve gotten this question more than once at our office, and we almost always advise against it. There are a number of reasons to keep your home in your own name, the biggest ones are, loss of control, loss of stepped up basis leading to increased income taxes the kids will pay, failure to use gift tax exclusions resulting in huge penalties to the IRS, increased property taxes and your child’s liabilities. These aren’t the only reasons to keep your home in your own name, however. Other reasons include:

Most parents want to love and treat all of their children the same, but when it comes to estate planning, not every child should be treated the same. In fact, insisting on treating all children exactly the same in an estate plan can often lead to disastrous consequences.

Each of your children is unique, and their circumstances may grow increasingly different, especially as they become adults and acquire jobs and extended in-law families. Each child should accordingly be treated as a unique individual.

Here are a few ways that wise parents might consider treating their children differently in an estate plan, but sill equally:

religion.jpgMany parents hope to pass their values onto their children and grandchildren. Often one of the most important values that they hope to pass on are values based on religion and spirituality. In some cases, religious values are so important to a parent that they will even include mention of these values in their estate planning documents. Our firm strongly believes that an estate plan is not just about money, but about leaving a legacy, and we often encourage our clients to include mention of their values–religious or otherwise.

Formalizing a legacy of values is not always as easy as leaving a financial legacy, however; and there is a limit to how far a parent or grandparent can go in dictating religious values to their heirs. Being too restrictive in an estate plan in an effort to pass on religious values–choosing to disinherit children who marry outside the faith, for example–can often create divisions within a family and spark extended, costly legal battles, all while failing to have any true impact on your heirs’ beliefs. In addition, many of these clauses have historically been poorly drafted and violate the public policy of the freedom to marry and are stricken by courts.

One of the most common value-imposing strategies used by parents in estate planning is to require that children marry within a certain faith in order to receive their inheritance. This strategy has worked in some instances, for example, in 2009 the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the decisions of lower courts and unanimously ruled that Max Feinberg, and his wife, Erla, could legally cut off their grandchildren who chose to marry outside of the Jewish religion.

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