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Florida’s Elective Share: Part II

Our previous blog post two weeks ago addressed Florida law regarding the protection to surviving spouses provided by the elective share from the perspective of estate planning (Elective Share – what is it and why you should know more about it). This post focusses on the options of a surviving spouse after declaring elective share. However, electing against the decedent’s estate may not always be the most beneficial option for a surviving spouse. Depending on the circumstances, a surviving spouse’s pretermitted share of decedent’s estate can be much larger than their elective share, and therefore, in some cases, it may not be beneficial to utilize the elective share.

Intestacy and Pretermitted Spouse

How does Florida’s Elective Share Affect my Estate Plan? Part One.

What is an “Elective Share”?

In situations where the decedent’s will has left their surviving spouse very little, or nothing, Florida law protects surviving spouse’s in two major ways: The Elective Share and Homestead. While both of these laws may affect your estate plan in significant ways, this blog and the next blog will focus on the elective share. A surviving spouse has the right to claim an elective share of the decedent’s estate, often termed “electing against the will.” By opting to claim their elective share, a surviving spouse can essentially supersede the terms of a will and bequests to other people in order to obtain a percentage of the decedent’s estate.

Should I disclaim my Inheritance? When It’s Right to Say No

Florida law allows a beneficiary to “disclaim” any interest in or power over property that has been left to them. A disclaimer is a legal tool to refuse the acceptance of an interest in or a power over a property, governed by a series of statutes called the Florida Uniform Disclaimer of Property Interests Act, and by relevant federal tax law.

Why Disclaim?

Biden’s Tax Proposal and the “Step-Up in Basis”: What it Means for Your Estate Plan or Trust

A commonly utilized tax law in estate planning considerations, known as the “step up in basis,” may be in jeopardy. The “step-up,” derived from section 1014 of the Internal Revenue Code, gets applied to the cost basis of property when it is transferred upon death of the transferor. This mechanism has been a beneficial way to minimize the capital gains tax of one’s heirs, especially for property that has greatly appreciated over time. For example, if someone buys a home for $100,000 dollars, and fifty years later the owner sells the home at a time when the home has appreciated in value to $1,000,000, there would be a capital gain of $900,000, to which a long-term capital gains tax rate of 20.00% is applied. However, if the owner dies owning the home, and the home is transferred upon the homeowner’s death at a time when the home has appreciated in value to $100,000, the step up in basis converts the original cost basis to the fair market value of the transferred property at the time of the homeowner’s death. Thus, if the persons inheriting the property were to immediately sell it for $1,000,000, there would be zero capital gain, because the basis is equivalent to the sale price. The step-up in basis has allowed for taxpayers to save tremendous amounts of money on capital gains tax. Note that, although it is often referred to as a “step-up” in basis, it could be a “step-down” if the value of the property a the time of death is less than what the owner purchased it for.

However, the Biden Administration has proposed to eliminate the step-up in basis. In short, this means that heirs will have to pay capital gains tax on inherited assets based upon the cost basis of the donor’s purchase price. According to Biden’s proposed tax plan, there would still be an exemption for capital gains on the first $1,000,000 of capital gains ($2,000,000 for married couples), but gains above the $1,000,000 ($2,000,000 for married couples) will not receive step-up in basis treatment.

I Made an Irrevocable Trust a Long Time Ago: Can I Change it Now?

People make irrevocable trusts for many reasons, one major reason being tax planning. In order to make a completed gift for tax reasons, a donor has to part with control over the gifted asset, and making a gift to a trust that is irrevocable is one of the ways this can be accomplished. But that if your circumstances change, or tax laws change, and you would like to modify or terminate an irrevocable trust? Can a trust still be modified if it is irrevocable?

The answer is yes, if certain conditions are met. Florida statutes specifically allow for modification of irrevocable trusts in certain circumstances. For instance, by court order (Fla. Stat. § 736.0410), to modify tax provisions (Fla. Stat. § 736.04114), or where the trustee and all beneficiaries unanimously agree (Fla. Stat. § 736.0412), just to name a few. But there are certain situations where none of the Florida statutes apply. For instance, a modification under Fla. Stat. § 736.0412 by agreement of trustees and beneficiaries can only be accomplished if the settlor has passed away and only with respect to a trust that was made irrevocable after January 1, 2001. That leaves some situations that are not covered by the Florida statute.

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.

Florida is one of the many separate property states that give a decedent’s surviving spouse an “elective share” of the decedent’s property. This share of the estate is but one of several supportive mechanisms for surviving spouses in Florida. Others include homestead, social security, and employee pension plans. The term “elective share” implies the choice, or “election,” that state statutes typically grant the surviving spouse after the decedent’s will has been admitted to probate. The surviving spouse can either take under the specific provisions of the decedent’s will, or the spouse can renounce the will and take a statutory, fractional share of the decedent’s estate. In the usual case, the decedent has already bequeathed to the surviving spouse a majority (or at least a significant amount) of his or her estate property, leaving the concept of the “elective share” out of the picture. In more unusual cases, however, the decedent completely disinherits the surviving spouse under his or her will, or simply designates a very small portion of his or her assets to the surviving spouse. The latter is most commonly where elective share statutes come into play, especially when the decedent passed away leaving a substantial amount of wealth behind.
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Under Florida Statute 732.201 the surviving spouse of an individual who dies and is also domiciled in Florida, has a right to a share of the elective estate of the decedent. This right gives the surviving spouse up to 30% of the decedent’s elective estate, even if they were expressly disinherited in a will or trust. Thus, even if a will specifically disinherits a spouse, Florida Law will override the terms of the will and apply the spouse’s right to an elective share. For this right to apply, the decedent must have been married and must have been domiciled somewhere within Florida, whether it was Palm Beach, Broward or Dade county, at the time of death.

A surviving spouse does not have to be completely disinherited to opt for the elective share. The elective share can be elected whenever a surviving spouse stands to receive less than 30% of decedent’s elective estate. The only exceptions to this rule come from valid pre nuptial agreements, post nuptial agreements and effective waivers by spouses of their elective share rights.

The 30% is calculated from the “elective estate” of the decedent’s assets. The elective estate tends to include a larger scope of assets than those included in decedent’s probate estate. Florida Statute 732.2035 lists those probate and non-probate assets which are included in the elective estate. Those assets include, but are not limited to, property owned by the decedent, revocable trust assets, funds from payable on death accounts, and any property given away within one year of decedent’s death.

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