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Articles Posted in COVID 19

Bernie’s “For the 99.5% Act”: Is It Time to Start Thinking about Tax Planning?

For the year 2021, each individual has $11,700,000.00 of estate tax credit (or $23,400,000.00 for married couples), otherwise known as the “applicable exclusion amount.” For estates that exceed the applicable exclusion amount, the tax rate is up to 40.00% of the amount in excess of the applicable exclusion amount. The current estate tax credit is scheduled to maintain that level, indexed for inflation, until December 31, 2025, at which point the applicable exclusion amount will be reduced to approximately $6,000,000.00 ($12,000,000.00 for married couples).  However, since the Biden administration proposed major estate tax reform, there has been much discussion about whether the estate tax credit will be reduced earlier.

On March 25, 2021, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the “For the 99.5% Act,” which proposed, among others, the following tax reforms:

Larry King’s Handwritten Will Ordeal

The recent passing of the broadcasting legend, Larry King, has resulted in his family not only mourning him but also fighting amongst themselves over his true last wishes. Larry, together with his wife, Shawn Southwick King, had executed estate planning documents in 2015, where he named her the personal representative of his estate. However, the couple faced some difficulties and Larry filed for divorce in August 2019. Just two months later, he executed a new handwritten will, leaving his entire estate valued at $2 million dollars to his five children. Two witnesses also signed their names to the hand-written will.

Larry’s eldest son, Larry King Jr., submitted the 2019 will to the court and has petitioned to be appointed the temporary administrator of Larry’s estate. However, Shawn has filed an objection to the 2019 will, claiming that the will is invalid and that Larry King Jr. exerted undue influence over his father towards the end of his life, and insisting that the 2015 will is the valid one.

Needs Based Government Assistance and Special Needs Trusts

It is never too early to start Medicaid planning. The goal is to focus on paying for long-term medical care and protecting your assets. By planning for Medicaid to pay for an amount of long-term care, it allows seniors to pass on their wealth while still maintaining long term medical care. With careful planning and the assistance of an attorney, you may be able to receive needs-based government benefits without having to deplete your assets, and ensure that and your children will be able to receive such government assistance if needed.

There are selected categories of people in Florida who may be eligible for Medicaid benefits, such as the elderly (age 65 and above), pregnant women, and people with certain disabilities. There are also a few other requirements to be eligible for Florida Medicaid, such as being a resident of the State of Florida, a U.S. national, citizen, permanent resident, or legal alien; having a financial situation that is considered low income or very low income; and owning assets below a certain threshold. If you are one of the selected categories of people who qualify for Medicaid, there is planning that can be done to help you meet the other requirements. However, there is a 5 year look-back rule regarding any uncompensated transfers that you make, so it is best to plan early and anticipate your future need.

Contracts to Create a Will

A last will and testament must be the consequence of a person’s free will (which is why they are aptly referred to as “wills”). Nevertheless, a person may execute a contract during life to include certain terms and/or beneficiaries in their will in exchange for goods or services.

Enforcing a contract to create a will is more complex than enforcing a normal contract. With these types of agreements, it may be impossible to tell whether the testator lived up to his or her side of the bargain until their estate plan is revealed after their death. Additionally, the terms of a will do not come into effect until death, so there may not technically be a breach of the contract until the decedent’s death. Further, if you were supposed to be a part of the decedent’s estate plan, but were not included, it’s possible you may never even receive notice regarding the administration of the decedent’s estate.

Over the past few weeks, the internet has rediscovered that Brittney Spears has not had legal control over her extensive assets for 12 years. Given Brittney Spears’ celebrity status, this news made considerable waves throughout popular culture, and the hashtag #FreeBritney started to trend. People began investigating social media posts from Ms. Spears where she allegedly has hidden cryptic messages about her desire to get out of this arrangement. So, how did it get to this point, and what legal mechanism locks Britney Spears out of controlling her own assets?

What Happened?

First, Ms. Spears has had an extremely public battle with mental health. In 2007, Ms. Spears suffered a breakdown in which she shaved her head and attacked a photographer’s car with an umbrella. She had several stays in rehab and was committed to a psychiatric hospital twice. After her stays at psychiatric hospitals, her father, Jamie Spears, petitioned the court for an emergency “temporary conservatorship,” which granted him and an attorney control over Spears’ financial and personal decisions. The temporary agreement was later made permanent.

Does My Will Control My Joint Property?

There are several different ways to hold real property with another individual in Florida. The three main ones are: 1) tenancy in common, 2) joint tenancy with a right of survivorship, and 3) tenancy by the entirety. The way co-ownership of real property is classified may have significant impacts on the disposition of an estate after one of the owners dies.

In Florida, the default classification of real estate ownership is known as tenancy in common. If a property title lists only the names of owners without specifying another classification, there is a presumption that the property is a tenancy in common (unless the individuals are married). Additionally, unless specifically stated otherwise, tenants in common own equal shares of the property. When a tenant in common dies, the real property passes according to that person’s estate plan. This type of ownership will ensure that the property will flow through the owner’s estate. However, unless this property is held by a mechanism that can avoid probate proceedings (e.g. a Revocable Trust), it must go through the time consuming, expensive and public probate process to transfer title to the heirs.

What Happens to My Estate Plan When I Divorce?

People often designate their spouse as a primary beneficiary in their will, trust, or beneficiary designation, but what happens in the case of divorce? Oftentimes, a person may neglect to update their testamentary plan following a divorce and leave their ex-spouse as a beneficiary. Thankfully, in Florida, several laws help automatically update a person’s estate plan upon divorce to avoid unintentionally bequeathing a gift to an ex-spouse.

Florida law provides that any provision of a will in favor of a divorced spouse treats that former spouse as if that spouse had already died. The controlling statute, Fla. Stat. § 732.507(2) states the following:

COVID-19 – Buying Life Insurance to protect your children, but what happens when you name them as the beneficiaries?

During these uncertain times, people are attempting to prepare for the worst. This is especially true for those who have minor children. The fear of getting infected with the virus, developing a serious illness that could potentially lead to death, and leaving their children unprotected is very real. Thus, individuals are opting to buy life insurance to make sure their children are taken care of in the event of their death.

But what happens when you die and your minor children are the beneficiaries under your life insurance policy? Since minors cannot legally manage property, the court will appoint a guardian to handle the money for the benefit of your children until they reach the age of majority—a guardianship proceeding. Alternatively, life insurance companies will sometimes ask you to name a custodian, which will create a custodianship account under the Florida Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (“UTMA”), also until the age of majority.

Social Distancing and Signing Documents: Can a Beneficiary Act as a Witness?

During COVID-19, we have had to adapt the way we sign estate planning documents while maintaining safe social distancing. Although businesses are slowly reopening and things appear to be getting back to a sense of normal, it is still important to be cautious and keep our exposures to a minimum. One of the strategies Chepenik Trushin LLP has adjusted is to make the estate planning process entirely remote, with phone and video conferences, email communications, and sending estate planning documents through regular or electronic mail with detailed instructions for clients to sign on their own. For some clients, this has worked well, but for others, it has been a challenge to find two witnesses and a notary, which are required for many estate planning documents. A frequent question that has arisen is whether a relative or a beneficiary may serve as the witness to a will or other estate planning documents, such as a trust.

For a number of years, Florida law disfavored beneficiaries under a will from also being witnesses to the will. Under current Florida law, a will or codicil is not invalid simply because the will or codicil is signed by an interested witness. Fla. Stat. § 732.504(2). Based on the Florida statute, a beneficiary can serve as a witness to a will.

COVID 19 Pandemic: If I can’t make medical decisions for myself, who can?

On January 19, 2020, a man in his mid-thirties reported to an urgent care clinic in Snohomish County, Washington, with a persistent cough and fever. The next day, testing by the Center for Disease Control confirmed that the man had COVID 19 marking the first positive test in the United States. Since then, positive cases in the United States have ballooned to over 1,000,000 even as social distancing and quarantine measures have become the new normal.

These unprecedented circumstances raise critical questions about medical care. If you become too sick to make your own medical decisions, who gets to make them? And, to what extent can you control those decisions? In Florida, there are two basic ways you can direct medical decision-making before you become physically or mentally unable to make those decisions for yourself: (1) through the designation of a Healthcare surrogate and (2) by recording your treatment preferences in a living will.

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