Legal Capacity and Estate Planning- How to Help Safeguard a Will from Future Litigation

When a loved one grows older, their caretakers’ ever growing to-do list can be overwhelming. After dealing with the basic, everyday needs of an aging family member, it may sometimes be easy to overlook the fact that your loved one does not have a valid will. By not addressing this issue, the task of handling final affairs and estate distribution after their death becomes increasingly more difficult. If you are responsible for someone who is at risk for developing Alzheimer’s, dementia, or any other disease that can affect their mental capacity, it is important that you consult with an estate planning lawyer who can ensure that a proper will is drafted in accordance with the laws of the state of Florida.

Florida courts have held that a will can be properly admitted to probate if the testator was competent at the time the will was executed.  Jervis v. Tucker, 82 So.3d 126 (FL 4th DCA 2002).  A testator will be found to have been competent if they possessed the ability to “mentally understand in a general way the nature and extent of the property to be disposed of, and the testator’s relation to those who would naturally claim a substantial benefit from the will, as well as a general understanding of the practical effect of the will as executed.” American Red Cross v. Estate of Haynsworth, 708 So.2d 602, 605 (FL 3rd DCA 1998). Florida courts will apply these standards and also evaluate the facts specific to a particular case in order to determine if a testator was of “sound mind” when they created the will. Estate planning lawyers play an important role in this process and have the responsibility of ensuring that the testator is legally competent at the time the will is created.

Where There’s a Will, There May Not Always Be a Way for Attorney-Client Privilege

Attorney-client privilege may not always apply in probate litigation. In fact, the Third District Court of Appeal has held that under the Florida Evidence Code, a lawyer may not invoke attorney-client privilege under certain circumstances.

Attorney-client privilege is a key hallmark of the attorney-client relationship. The privilege prevents disclosure of confidential communications pertaining to legal advice between a client and her attorney. Attorney-client privilege therefore promotes candor and better representation. Rule 4-1.6(a) of the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct states that “[a] lawyer must not reveal information relating to representation of a client . . . unless the client gives informed consent.” https://www.floridabar.org/rules/rrtfb/rule/?num=4-1.6. Further, under the official comments to Rule 4-1.6, a lawyer has an ethical obligation to assert attorney-client privilege on a client’s behalf, including during proceedings involving evidentiary matters.

Expanding Florida’s Homestead Exemption

Florida voters will have an important decision to make for the 2018 election—whether to raise the Florida homestead exemption. At first glance, the legislation offers a substantial property tax break for homeowners; however, if approved, the homestead exemption bill may cost counties and cities enormous revenue.

The Florida legislature created the homestead exemption in 1934 to aid residents affected by the Depression. The homestead exemption—then $5,000.00—allowed residents to keep their homes despite inability to pay property taxes. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/legislature/florida-homestead-exemption-increase-closer-to-ballot/2322311. In 1980, under Democratic Governor Bob Graham, Florida voters raised the exemption to $25,000.00, and again in 2008 to $50,000.00 under Republican Governor Charlie Crist. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/legislature/florida-homestead-exemption-increase-closer-to-ballot/2322311. Now, the November 2018 ballot will give Florida voters the choice to raise the exemption even higher.

Do you own a home health care agency or nurse registry? Safeguard your referral sources through a non-compete agreement and enforce it!

The home health care industry generally includes businesses that provide skilled nursing, physical therapy, and other health-related services to homebound patients.  If you run a home care company, you know that referrals are crucial.  This is because patients typically seek out home care services after a referral from a “middle man,” such as a physician, hospital, or skilled nursing facility. As a result, home care companies hire marketing representatives to promote the companies and cultivate relationships with the middle men in hope of securing future patient referrals for their business.

Imagine that you hire such a marketing representative, train her, and give her access to your company’s internal referral source database, preferences, and strategies.  Naturally, you want to protect your sources, so the representative signs a confidentiality and non-compete agreement as part of her employment contract.  After some time, the representative quits, and all of a sudden you start receiving significantly less referrals from the sources that the representative worked on while employed by you.  Coincidence?  It turns out that the representative started working for your direct competitor and used her relationship with your precious referral sources to your competitor’s benefit, in direct violation of the non-compete agreement.  Surely the law is on your side, right?

Do incapacitated wards need prior court approval to marry? Subsequent ratification is enough

Already in 1888, the United States Supreme Court first recognized the right to marry as one of the fundamental rights of all individuals.  Describing marriage as “the most important relationship in life,” the Court went on upholding that marriage is “the foundation of the family and society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.”  Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888).

Regretfully, when it comes to marriage of incapacitated persons, they are sometimes the victims of emotional abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.  For this reason, a guardianship court may remove an incapacitated person’s right to marry if there is clear and convincing evidence that he or she is incapacitated with respect to that right.  Fla. Stat. 744.3215(2)(a); 744.331(6).  However, even when a guardianship court does not remove the right to marry, an incapacitated person’s right to marry becomes “subject to court approval” when his or her right to contract has been removed.  Fla. Stat. 744.3215(2)(a).  This legal framework aims at protecting the ward by allowing a court to assess the risks of abuse and exploitation, while upholding the ward’s fundamental right to marry, to the greatest extent possible.

Priority of Medical Decision-Makers when Incapacitated

Throughout life, many unexpected things can happen. Have you ever wondered who will get to make difficult medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to? The Florida Legislature has, in § 765.401 Fla. Stat. (1992), made a list in order of priority of such proxies.

The first person on the list is a court-appointed guardian if one has previously been appointed and has been authorized to consent to medical treatment for the patient. Likewise, a guardian advocate previously appointed by the court will be first in line to make decisions for one who has a developmental disability. It is important to note that guardian appointments are not required before a medical decision can be made.

Great news for Creditors! Up to 20 years to enforce a domesticated foreign judgment

Over 30 years ago, Florida enacted the Florida Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (FEFJA) providing a simplified procedure for domesticating foreign judgments.  In other words, FEFJA allows a judgment from any other US state or the US federal government to be recognized and enforced as if it were a Florida judgment.  Until recently, Florida creditors remained uncertain as to one crucial aspect of this important mechanism – what is the “expiration date” of a domesticated foreign judgment?

To understand the implications of this issue, we must look to the applicable statute of limitations.  Under Florida law, the expiration date for a judgment or decree issued by a Florida court is 20 years.  Fla. Stat. 95.11(1).  Contrarily, a judgment or decree of any court of the United States, any other state or territory in the United States, or a foreign country, expires after only five years.  Fla. Stat. 95.11(2).  Therefore, the question as to which of these time limitations apply to a domesticated foreign judgment clearly bears far-reaching consequences.

4th DCA Recognizes Homestead Exception for Alimony Creditors

The Florida Constitution provides powerful homestead protection against creditors.  Generally, only three types of super-creditors can breach this protection – (1) government entities with a tax lien or assessment on the property; (2) banks or other lenders with a mortgage originating from the purchase of the property; and (3) creditors with liens originating from work or repair performed on the property.

However, a recent decision by the District Court of Appeal for the 4th District confirmed a “long recognized” fourth category of super-creditors – alimony creditors.  The facts of this case are as follows:  Robert Spector (“Husband”) and Renee Spector (“Former Wife”) divorced in 1996, and agreed in a post-nuptial agreement that Husband would (1) pay Former Wife $5,000 per month in alimony until his or her death, or until she remarried; (2) transfer to Former Wife the title and interest in their marital home; and (3) maintain a $750,000.00 life insurance policy for Former Wife’s benefit.  Subsequently, Husband was held in civil contempt for “willful and deliberate failure to comply with the alimony provisions” of the post-nuptial agreement and was also denied a bankruptcy petition as alimony arrearages were not subject to bankruptcy discharge.

MORE MONEY, MORE PROBLEMS? 6 DO’S AND DONT’S OF ESTATE PLANNING AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

At the end of last year it seemed as if every day there was a new report of a celebrity dying unexpectedly. As fans around the world mourned the death of some of Hollywood’s most iconic figures, reports of their estate planning, or lack thereof, also filled the headlines.

Prince: Intestacy and streaming music rights collide

Elder Abuse and Undue Influence Awareness

Did you commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day? June 15, 2017 marked the twelfth annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, or WEAAD. Elder abuse, especially elder financial exploitation, has been called the crime of the 21st century. However, based on national surveys, elder abuse remains one of the least investigated and least addressed types of violence in national action plans. Experts predict that by the year 2025, the global population of those aged 60 years and older will more than double, from 542 million in 1995 to about 1.2 billion. As the global elderly population grows, so does the risk of financial abuse.

To raise awareness around the world and promote a better understanding of abuse of older adults, the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations launched WEAAD in 2006. WEAAD’s theme this year focused on preventing financial exploitation of the elderly in the context of human rights. The 2017 WEAAD also stressed the need for countries to take concrete action and develop strategies addressing financial exploitation for older adults.