While irrevocable trusts were once thought to be untouchable this may no longer be true as the practice of “decanting” a trust becomes more commonly used. Decanting lets a trustee, or the manager of the trust, change certain terms by figuratively pouring the assets from an old trust into a new one. So far, 21 states have adopted decanting laws and a group of trust lawyers and professors are drafting a model law to serve as a template for states to use in the future as a model.

Many families use irrevocable trusts to pass wealth to their beneficiaries because of the tax advantages and other benefits the trust offers. So far there are some limits to what decanting can do, as, for instance, trustees cannot change a beneficiary’s already vested interests in a trust.

So what can the act of decanting do? Continue reading

A GRAT is a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust and is a special type of irrevocable trust that allows the settlor, or trust maker, to transfer assets to this trust and receive an annual annuity payment for a certain amount of years. When the term of the GRAT ends, the assets remaining in the GRAT are distributed to the trust beneficiaries.

So how does it work?

The amount of the annuity payment paid to the settlor during the GRAT is calculated by using an interest rate determined by the IRS called the section 7520 interest rate. The settlor can even set the annuity payment so that it will be exactly equal to the section 7520 interest rate, meaning that theoretically all of the assets that been transferred into the GRAT will be returned to the settlor in the form of annuity payments. Continue reading

If a tenant does not pay rent in Florida, a landlord can evict the tenant if he or she follows the correct procedures as defined in the Florida statutes.

Florida law no longer allows “self-help” evictions, which few states continue to recognize, such as changing the locks or shutting off the utilities. A self-help eviction occurs when a landlord retakes possession of a property without using the eviction process. Courts no longer favor this approach as it can lead to dangerous confrontations, assault, or even harassment. Landlords must now follow the eviction legal process.

The key to the eviction process is the proper preparation and delivery of a three-day eviction notice. This notice must be delivered, and cannot be waived by either the landlord or the tenant. Termination for nonpayment of rent is exclusively accomplished under the act of serving the three-day notice to all tenants. Without the termination for nonpayment, a lawsuit to remove a tenant who refuses to leave cannot be heard in court. If the landlord purchased the property through a foreclosure, there may be an additional 90-day notice required.

The Florida statute provides the three-day notice must “substantially comply” with the form provided in the statue. This form states to the tenant the “what, when, and to whom, and where” regarding the tenant’s requirements to avoid an eviction. Many Florida courts have held that a three day notice that fails to substantially comply with the notice is defective, and a court will be unable to evict a tenant if the notice is not proper. Continue reading

A living trust, revocable trust, or asset protection trust can be a great estate planning tool that offers a number of benefits, such as allowing assets to pass to beneficiaries without going through probate and avoid the claims of creditors. Once a trust has been created, the testator must then fund the trust.

To fund the trust, the trust maker  (Settlor) usually transfers assets into the trust. A trust can be funded with almost any type of asset, such as: cash, stocks, bonds, real property, or even personal property. Out of state property can also be used to fund a trust, but will require a different process.  Real property (land or homes) requires a deed to be transferred into the trust.

How do you transfer assets to the trust?

A new Florida law, Florida HB5, signed into law by Governor Rick Scott in June seeks to curb elder guardianship abuse. The bill was drafted to help solve the growing problem of elder abuse in Florida’s elder guardianship system

There are a growing number of reports of abuse of court appointed guardians in Florida misappropriating funds and other abuse by exploiting the old law’s lack of transparency, poor oversight and other structural flaws. Once a person becomes incapacitated, a petition may be filed to appoint a guardian if there is no pre-approved guardian in place. An incapacitated person can lose a variety of rights to his or her guardian, including the right to manage his or her finances and health care.

Under the current system incapacitated persons become vulnerable to abuse by their guardian. The new Florida bill seeks to prevent abuse with some of its major provisions, such as the provision that provides specific criminal penalties for abuse or exploitation of a ward.

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Transferring a guardianship from another state to Florida can be more complicated than a transfer between another two states. American families are increasingly becoming more mobile, and different states have varying rules regarding the guardianship process.

Before a move can occur, a guardian will need to consider if the state he or she is moving the ward to will recognize the guardianship in their current state. To best ensure the guardianship is correctly transferred, we recommend speaking with an attorney who is familiar with both state laws.

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Estate planning often focuses on married couples, but estate planning for a single person is equally as important. A single person often owns assets in their name individually, which means these assets must go through the probate process when the person dies. The big question then becomes whom do these assets pass to?   In addition, asset protection and Medicaid issues become more important to address with a single person than a married couple.

A single person like any other person can own many assets and have a desire to see those assets distributed to certain people. Some assets, such as life insurance and retirement plans, are distrusted at death according to the beneficiary designations. If a person dies without a will, his or her possessions are passed intestate according to the intestate laws of the state. For a single person, the state law usually provides that a single person’s assets are passed to his or her closest relatives. If there are no relatives then the assets are collected by the state. So estate planning is needed if a person wants a say in how his or her assets will distributed.

What documents does a single person need?

When lawyers draft estate-planning documents they are made with current laws in mind. However, estate-planning laws have changed in some key ways over the last few decades. Here are 4 key dates that have changed estate-planning. If your documents created before these dates it may be time to update them.

HIPAA

The first date to look out for is April 14, 2003, which is when the privacy rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act first took effect. Although HIPAA was enacted in 1996, its privacy regulations were not enacted until several years later on April 14, 2003.

This act brought about much stricter guidelines regarding the disclosure of a person’s health information to third parties without explicit permission. Now, only a few people are allowed to receive this information, which becomes a much bigger issue if the person becomes incapacitated, such as in Terri Schiavo’s case. Now, a durable power of attorney is needed to make important health care decisions for loved ones. If your will, revocable trust, durable power of attorney or health care power of attorney was executed before this date, your executor, trustee, or agent may not be able to effectively work with your medical care providers or insurers.

State estate taxes Continue reading

Getting your first driver’s license can be one of the biggest milestones in a young person’s life. However, what was once a cherished rite of passage has now turned into a potential liability for parents. Under Florida law, a parent can be held legally responsible for the negligent actions of a child driving the parent’s car. Florida law also requires a parent or guardian to sign the driver’s license for a driver under 18, and this person who signs will also be held liable for the driver’s negligent driving.

A parent’s liability may not even end once the child turns 18. This state also recognizes the “dangerous instrumentality doctrine,” which states the owner of a vehicle is liable for its negligent operation. This means the owner can be liable even if the driver is an adult and unrelated to the owner.

Further, parents are at risk from creditors when a child is involved in a car wreck even if the car is tilted in one spouse’s name. In Florida when two people are married, creditors cannot normally reach the other spouse’s assets unless both spouses jointly own the property. However, both spouses can be liable to creditors if, for example, one spouse owns the car and the other spouse signed the child’s driver’s license. This can create a nightmare scenario where creditors go after assets a parent once thought was protected from creditors.

In 2011, Florida passed the Power of Attorney Act that has had a significant impact on the then existing law in an attempt to achieve greater consistency and uniformity throughout Florida. One big change the act brought about was the codification of laws regarding a third party’s ability to reject a durable power of attorney.

Now the law states that once a power of attorney is presented to a third party, the third party is required to accept or reject the power of attorney within four business days and to provide a written explanation for rejection unless the third person is not otherwise required to engage in a transaction with the principal.

Third parties in these cases are usually banks and other businesses. The issue arises when a third party questions the power of attorney or the authority of the agent, and then refuse to honor a power of attorney. First, it is important to note that banks are offered a number of protections that encourage a bank to accept the validity of a durable power of authority. Florida law provides that if a business accepts a power of attorney that appears to be valid on its face, the bank will not be liable for accepting the power of attorney. The bank will only be liable if it knows the power of attorney has been revoked and still accepts the power of attorney.

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