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DIY Estate Planning: Can I Make a Will Myself?

While a steady drive towards technology has been growing for decades, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic tremendously increased our reliance on technology, effectively changing the the way we do nearly everything, including estate planning. Do-It-Yourself (DIY) online services offering legal templates and forms have gained popularity in the wake of the stay-home orders, popular for their convenience and low cost. DIY estate planning forms, such as like a last will and testament, codicils and health care or financial powers of attorney, created without the guidance of an attorney can create several issues.

Take, for instance, the case of Aldrich v. Basile, which the Supreme Court of Florida called “a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance.”[1] In Aldrich, a women used a DIY will template that willed several assets to her brother. After creating this will, she inherited some property and large sum of money. Her will, however, did not contain a residuary clause, which accounts for all property not specially bequeathed in the will. Upon her death, her brother and nieces began suit to determine the rightful owner to the inherited money and property, each claiming it was theirs. The Florida Supreme Court held that because the will did not contain a residuary clause, the money and property would pass through intestacy (the law that happens when someone dies without a valid will), meaning it would be split according to the default Florida laws. This case demonstrates the detrimental impact of an online will template can have when it does not adequately address your estate’s specific, changing needs.

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.

Guardianship: Don’t Believe Everything You Watch on Netflix

Netflix’s new sensationalist movie “I Care a Lot,” released this past February 19, 2021, might have you thinking that being a guardian may be the path to wealth and easy money. Although a scammer making a living by successfully requesting the courts to appoint her as the guardian of elderly people she falsely claims cannot take care of themselves makes for a captivating story, fortunately this is far from the reality of guardianship practice.

Guardians are appointed by the court to care for and manage the property of people who cannot do it for themselves, such as individuals with a chronic mental illness, dementia, traumatic brain injury, or orphaned children. But the first thing to keep in mind is that, before a guardian is appointed, the allegedly incapacitated person has to be declared incapacitated by a court of law. This process involves the evaluation by one or more mental health professionals and/or physicians. Thus, unlike the movie, simply alleging a person cannot care for him or herself will not be sufficient. Once the person is deemed incapacitated, some or all of his or her legal rights are removed, and the guardian is charged with the responsibility to exercise those rights on behalf of the incapacitated person, who is legally referred to as “the ward.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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