Articles Posted in Creditors

WILLS, TRUSTS, and ARBITRATION AGREEMENTS

In previous blog posts, we have shown how wills and trusts are favored vehicles when protecting someone’s assets. Perhaps one of the purposes of a well-drafted will or trust is to avoid hearing the judge’s gavel when knowing who gets what part of the inheritance. Unfortunately, contentions amongst the parties may well exist. The good news is that since 2007, parties have another alternative to resolve disputes that arise out of a will or a trust. Florida Law provides the option for parties to have a clause in their will or trust requiring arbitration. See Fla. Stat. § 731.401.

Arbitration, is a private (not state-sponsored) method of resolving disputes. Arbitration is not to be confused with mediation: While mediators help the parties in finding a solution, arbitrators decide a dispute.

What is Probate?

Probate is a process, which the court supervises, for settling a deceased person’s estate.  The process involves identifying assets belonging to the estate, paying the decedent’s debt, and distributing the remainder of the assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries.  Costs for the probate proceeding have first priority for payment from the estate’s assets.

If a decedent dies testate (with a valid will) and designates a personal representative, then the will’s provisions govern disposition of the decedent’s probate assets.  If a decedent dies intestate (without a valid will), then Florida law will govern selection of a personal representative and will govern who will receive the decedent’s probate assets.

HOW THE NEW TAX BILL MAY AFFECT DIVORCES

In one of our previous posts we informed about the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”) and the major changes it brings, including the various adjustments in tax deductions. This article focuses on deductions applicable to alimony, as the new system may significantly affect and expedite divorce settlements in the months to come.

Alimony is a form of spousal support awarded by agreement or by court decision to the lower-income spouse after divorce, typically referred to as the “dependent” spouse. The courts have wide discretion in establishing the amount of alimony and the time period during which the higher-income spouse is obligated to pay. The purpose of alimony is to help the dependent spouse overcome the divorce and to at least partially maintain the standard of living the spouses shared during their marriage. To ease the burden of splitting one household into two, the alimonies were tax deductible – at least until now.

IRREVOCABLE SPENDTHRIFT TRUSTS

Trusts are popular estate planning instruments that may bring many benefits both during lifetime and in the case of death. Some common reasons for setting up a trust include the avoidance of costs and time consumption of probate proceedings, property management for those who cannot or do not wish to manage the property themselves, continuance of property management after death or during disability, and saving of taxes and protection of the assets against the claims of creditors. However, there are several types of trusts and not all of them provide these benefits to the same extent.

The revocable trust is the most flexible one as the creator (settlor) can at modify the terms of the trust or completely revoke it at any time. See Fla. Stat. § 736.0602. However, the assets transferred into such trust are still considered personal assets of the settlor and accordingly, can be reached by his or her creditors. See Fla. Stat. § 736.0505(1)(a). Therefore, the revocable trust is not an ideal solution for asset protection purposes. Upon death of the settlor, this trust becomes irrevocable, meaning that the rules for asset distribution can no longer be changed. It is also possible to make a trust irrevocable from the outset and to afford protection against creditors by adding a spendthrift provision. See Fla. Stat. § 736.0502.

How to comply with formal requirements of Will execution

Florida law places great emphasis on compliance with its statutes regarding execution of wills. This is to assure the authenticity of such an important document profoundly affecting many lives, and prevent fraud and imposition in its execution. The statutory provisions, which appear in Florida Statute §735.502, set out four main requirements for executing a will. Failure to comply with the formal requirements can invalidate the will and force the estate to pass through intestate succession. It is therefore important to comply with and understand these formal requirements.

Firstly, the will must be in writing. This means that the document can be handwritten, typed, or printed. Florida does not recognize oral wills (nuncupative wills) or wills without witnesses (holographic wills). Nuncupative wills are allowed in only few jurisdictions and typically require witnesses and some exigent circumstances such as a car accident or a heart attack. Contrarily, many states recognize holographic wills and have different requirements as to their validity.

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.

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.