While the following article deals with divorce, our readers may consider it terms of accessing emails or online information of a deceased spouse or family member and the potential criminal liability that may be associated with accessing digital assets.

Federal wiretapping laws usually do not mix with state divorce proceedings.  However, these laws became a central issue during the divorce of Paula Epstein from her husband Barry Epstein in Illinois.  The issue is, did Ms. Epstein violate federal wiretapping laws when she put an auto-forward on her husband’s email account so she could read his emails.

Barry Epstein sued his wife under federal law while the couple was in the process of divorcing.  Paula accused her husband of serial infidelity.  In response, Barry’s attorney asked Paula for any documents and evidence she had that was related to the accusation.  Paula complied and produced copies of the incriminating emails between Barry and several other women.  This discovery response caused Barry to sue her under federal law.

Barry argued that Paula violated the Wiretap Act by secretly placing an auto-forwarding “rule” on his email accounts that automatically forwarded the messages on his email client to Paula.  Barry also claimed Paula’s lawyer violated the Act by disclosing the intercepted emails.  The courts dismissed this claim because the attorney could not be liable for disclosing Barry’s emails in response to his discovery request.

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Trusts are one of the most commonly used estate planning tools by Jacksonville estate planning lawyers for a good reason.  A Trust can permit an asset to bypass probate while allowing the original owner the power to control and manage the assets.  A trust can also provide asset protection and make assets exempt from the Medicaid qualification process.  Our Jacksonville estate planning attorneys are often asked about differences between using a trust and an outright gift to a beneficiary.

In most cases, the answer is that it is it better to keep the asset in a trust to reduce income taxes, protect the asset from creditors, and prevent penalties in the case long-term care is needed. We will attempt to explain why in this article   A major purpose of a trust, which can be irrevocable or revocable, is to provide an easy way to transfer ownership of a property when the owner passes away and permit an unlimited step-up in basis without income taxes to the person who receives the items.  Some trusts also provide asset protection or can be designed to protect assets in the case long-term care is needed.  As a person begins to age it can be dangerous and costly to make large outright gifts.  The risks are often specific to the individual and should be discussed with an estate planning or elder law attorney.

One example may be a 65-year-old client who owns a rental home or multiple rental homes.  The homes are primarily rented out to generate income while they appreciate in value.  The client can transfer the property into an asset protection trust.  The trust becomes the owner of the rental property, and the rent and value of the properties can, over time be excluded if the client needs long-term care.  The client can be in charge of their trust and determine how the assets are invested and to whom the funds are given to.

In Florida, Medicaid is a federal and state level program that offers health care assistance to members of the program.  Medicaid is a complicated program that is administered differently on a state-by-state basis.  There are many common misunderstandings regarding Medicaid.  This article will help to debunk some common myths and set the record right.

1) Status of a Home in Florida

FALSE. One common myth is that Florida residents cannot own a home and also qualify for Medicaid.  This is not true.  Florida does place a cap on the amount of gross income and assets a person can own and qualify for Medicaid.  A person with too many assets or income is ineligible to receive Medicaid benefits.

Zsa Zsa Gabor is one of the latest celebrity deaths to sadden America.  The actress passed away at 99 years old and was known for being one of Hollywood’s first stars due to her colorful personality.  She was also known for her many marriages and divorces.

Gabor married nine times, which resulted in seven divorces and an annulment.  These complicated series of marriages and breakups has made her estate extremely interesting to estate planning attorneys.

Zsa Zsa’s ninth husband, Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, will have to move out of Gabor’s luxurious Bel Air home where the actress lived for nearly 40 years.  What is interesting to note is that for the past three years the couple lived in the large bungalow even though they no longer owned the house.

According to recent censuses and polls, experts project Americans that are 65-and-older will double over the next three decades due to a large number of baby boomers.  This means the current population of 65 and older persons should explode from the current rate of 48 million to almost 90 million by 2050.  This is an impressive statistic, but also a worrying statistic because as the population of elders increases, so does the potential for elder abuse.

Florida has one of the highest percentages of elderly residents in the United States, which also means there are more older people that can be abused.

So how does fraud against the elderly occur in Florida?

Several reverse mortgage companies were fined a collective amount of $790,000 for using deceptive advertising that claimed consumers could never lose their homes through a reverse mortgage.

The reverse mortgage firms fined were American Advisors Group, Reverse Mortgage Solutions, and Aegean Financial.  The three firms reached a consent agreement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  The regulators for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found the ads used by the companies misled consumers.

Specifically, the ads used statements that implied a person could never lose his or her home with a reverse mortgage.  Another ad promised, “ I can show you how to use a government-insured program that allows you to save money, get cash and live payment-free as long as you live in your home.”

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Many Jacksonville Special Needs Trust Lawyers and estate planning lawyers are rejoicing at the fact that the law concerning special needs trusts is about to change for the better.  In Jacksonville, a special needs trust can be of the best tools available for many clients of Jacksonville Special Need Trust Lawyers because it gives a great number of benefits to those that suffer from a disability.

Congress and the president are on the verge of passing The Special Needs Trust Fairness Act.  This act will allow a disabled person to create a special needs trust for himself (a First Person Special Needs Trust).  Previously, the law did not permit a disabled person to form their own special needs trust.

Under the old law, the only way a person could receive a benefit of special needs trust was if he or she had a parent or grandparent, or court order to create the special needs trust.  In Jacksonville, special needs trust lawyers had to jump through costly hoops for those clients without living parents or grandparents.  The only way for these disabled persons to receive this trust is by giving another person guardianship rights or petitioning the court to create the trust.

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Often we get clients who are interested in objecting to a will because of undue influence.  In Florida there is a split of authority over what happens to a previous will when the most recent will is invalidated by undue influence.  The results can be very different and may provide planning opportunities that could insulate from claim of undue influence.  As you can see in the case information below, the court determined that the previous will should be valid, while other courts in the states have found that intestacy is the proper method distributing assets after a successful  claim of undue influence.  If you are changing your will or would like to talk about how to protect from claims of undue influence in Florida, you might talk with a Jacksonville Estate Planning lawyer or Jacksonville Undue Influence Lawyer about your options.

The case of Rocke v. Am. Research Bureau (In re Estate of Murphy), 184 So. 3d 1221

This is a case where the probate court revoked a will due to undue influence.  The question then turned on whether or not the decedent’s estate should pass through intestate succession or by a previous will.

History of the case leading up to the claim of Undue Influence.

The testator was Virginia Murphy, a woman that passed away at the age of 107.  Her estate was worth 12 million dollars.  The decedent executed six wills throughout her lifetime.  Murphy’s parents and husband predeceased her, and she had no children or siblings.

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As of today, the answer is no you may not create your own Special Needs Trust, but the SNT Fairness Act may change that soon.  Under the current law you must have a guardian or court order to create a SNT for yourself.

Congress gave the estate planning community a great gift today when the Senate approved H.R. 34, the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act by a vote of 94 to 5.  The bill is now seeking final approval from the current sitting President Barack Obama, and political experts predict the president will sign the bill before he exits office.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act on November 30 since time is running out with the current session of Congress.  Senator Glenn Thompson from Pennsylvania, who is the Fairness Act’s sponsor, hurried to find a legal avenue for the getting the act passed before lame-duck session of Congress ended.  Innovatively, he used the Cures Act, which is a lengthy $6.3 billion medical bill that bundles a wide variety of health care related.

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The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 is still going strong, and there are some changes to the tax code in store for this New Year.  For those who are not familiar with the law, this act made the following permanent: the reunification of the estate and gift tax regimes, the $5 million estate along with the generation skipping transfer tax exemptions, and the portability of the federal estate tax exemption between spouses at death.

The great aspect of The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 is that the gift tax exemptions adjust for inflation each year.  In 2017, the federal estate tax exemption will be increased to $5,490,000.  The exemption was $5,450,000 in 2016.   Further, the generation skipping transfer tax exemption has also been increased to $5,490,000.

The more commonly used exemptions are the lifetime gift tax exemption.  The lifetime exemption is the amount a person can give throughout his or her life without paying any federal gift taxes.  In 2017, the rate will now be $5,490,000, which was also increased from $5,450,000 in 2016.  Further, a married couple may combine their lifetime exemptions so the combined estate can give up to $10,980,00.
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