Articles Posted in Legislative Updates

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?

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.

Florida same-sex surviving spouses may be added on a death certificate without a court order

In 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued its pioneering decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015), holding state laws prohibiting or refusing to recognize same-sex marriages unconstitutional.  After Obergefell, Florida started recognizing same-sex marriages and began to list a same-sex surviving spouse on the deceased spouse’s death certificate, where the marriage was lawfully entered into in another jurisdiction.  However, the surviving spouse was out of luck if the marriage was entered into before Obergefell, unless the surviving spouse obtained an individual court order approving the correction.

This obtrusive situation has changed for now.  In a recent order from March 23, 2017, a federal judge granted a summary judgment to a certified class, ordering that Florida must amend any death certificate without a court order when the decedent was lawfully married to a person of the same-sex at the time of the death.  The same judge issued an order striking down Florida’s marriage ban in August 2014.  The plaintiffs in this case were two gay surviving spouses, married before Obergefell, who filed the case not only on their behalf, but on behalf of other similarly situated persons as well.  The plaintiffs sought to have their spouses’ death certificates show they had been married, but the state argued that Florida law prohibited amending the death certificates without a court order.

Florida Appeals Court Comes Down Against Probate Creditor Claims From Child For Child Support Arrearages

On May 11, 2016, the Fourth District Court of Appeal issued its decision in Davis v. Hengen regarding creditor claims for child support arrearages against a decedent’s estate, when the decedent dies with unpaid child support obligations.

Upon the dissolution of their marriage, Clifford Davis and his then wife entered into a marital and property settlement agreement. According to the agreement, Clifford was obligated to pay monthly child support to his ex-wife to support their daughter, Deborah. When the father died, he died intestate. At the time of his death, the father had outstanding child support payments due. Deborah and Clifford’s current wife, Acaia, were appointed co-personal representatives of Clifford’s estate.

FIRPTA: Increased Withholding and Other Changes

Most professionals have familiarity with the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (“FIRPTA”), especially those that have foreign clients investing in U.S. real estate. On December 18, 2015, the President signed into law the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (“PATH Act”).  The PATH Act significantly alters FIRPTA withholding for foreign persons disposing of investments in U.S. real estate.  Realtors, accountants, closing agents and title companies need to familiarize themselves with the changes.

The PATH Act increases the FIRPTA withholding rate from 10 percent to 15 percent on certain dispositions and distributions of United States Real Property Interests (“USRPIs”).[1]  Similarly, the withholding rate for the transfer of a partnership interest or the beneficial interest in a trust or estate has been increased from 10 percent to 15 percent.[2]  The new withholding rate applies to all such dispositions that take place after February 16, 2016.[3]  However, the new FIRPTA rules allow for a 10 percent withholding rate where the amount realized on the disposition of property being used as a residence is between $300,000.00[4] and $1 million.[5]  In other words, if a foreign person sells his or her personal residence for $999,000.00 the amount to be withheld shall be $99,900.00.  However, if the foreign person sells his or her personal residence for $1,000,100.00, the amount to be withheld on the sale shall be $150,015.00.  The amount withheld is offset by the gain on the disposition of the USRPI and is refundable to the extent the amount withheld exceeds the underlying tax liability.[6]  The increased FIRPTA withholding rate is not an actual increase in tax, but a means of ensuring compliance with U.S. tax law.  An exemption found in the old rule remains in place, providing that a foreign person is not subject to FIRPTA withholding where the property sold is used as a residence and the amount realized does not exceed $300,000.00.[7]

For hundreds of years, most information existed in tangible form, usually in paper documents.  However the advent of digital technology, has transformed the way people acquire and store information and transact business.  As people continue to embrace digital technology, many tangible documents have been replaced by digital files.  This shift towards digital media has created challenges for fiduciaries tasked with corralling digital assets for individuals who have either lost capacity or died.

In Florida, when an individual dies or is declared incapacitated, a fiduciary is required to use their legal authority to inventory the person’s assets, pay the persons creditors and expenses, and preserve the assets while they are incapacitated or transfer the assets to the proper beneficiaries.  Traditionally, an individual’s personal information could be located by searching their paper records, where one could find information regarding bank accounts and bills to be paid.  However, the digitalization of personal information has made locating these records more complicated.  Fiduciaries must identify and locate these digital assets, determine who has control over access to the assets, and figure out how to access those assets.  Continue reading

As was recently decided by the United States Supreme Court, same-sex couples can legally wed in every state in the country.  Not only will same-sex couples be able to marry in any state of their choosing, but they are also now afforded the same rights and benefits that have traditionally accompanied the sanctity of marriage between man and woman.  In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling, legalized same-sex marriage.  Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, stated that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry.  Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion further holds that same-sex couples will no longer be denied the various benefits that states have linked to marriage.

Justice Kennedy explained that no union is more profound than that of marriage.  However, along with this profound union, comes additional and important decisions that must be made by the marrying couple, including decisions related to taxes and estate planning.  For tax planning, newly wed same-sex couples should consider the previous year’s federal and state income tax returns in order to discover if there is a positive tax arbitrage worth the time and expense of amending the prior year’s tax returns.  In addition, the current year’s federal income tax and state income tax (if applicable) opportunities should be examined.

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Earlier this year, Florida became the 36th state to legalize same-sex marriage, which was undoubtedly a monumental event for many South Florida residents. Up until then, gay and lesbian couples who wanted the benefit of marriage, but were legally unable to tie the knot, had very few options when considering things like estate planning, healthcare decisions, and taxes. After legalization, same-sex couples now have the opportunity to achieve greater economic and health benefits under the law.

Notably, as a legally recognized married couple, Floridian same-sex couples can now qualify for both homestead and tenancy by the entirety protection for property.  In Florida, homestead refers to the constitutional protection of an individual’s home from creditors.  The Florida Supreme Court in Orange Brevard Plumbing & Heating Co. v. La Croix stated that its “design and purpose is to benefit the debtor by securing to him his homestead beyond all liability from forced sale under process of any court.  The case law of this state dictates that homestead exemption laws should be liberally applied to the end that the family shall have shelter and shall not be reduced to absolute destitution.” 137 So. 2d 201, 204 (Fla. 1962).

Tenancy by the entirety is a form of ownership only applicable to married couples, where each spouse holds the whole (or the entirety of the) property, and not a share or divisible part. This means that when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse automatically owns the entire asset.  In addition to property rights, married same-sex couples can also begin to file joint tax returns and make medical decisions for the other spouse. These are everyday decisions for many of us, and now all married residents of Florida can benefit from these protections.

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It is no secret that we are living in a digital world. Our daily lives are spent online paying bills, browsing social media, checking bank accounts, and the list goes on. When you signed up for all of these accounts, you likely did not think to yourself, “I wonder who will manage these accounts if I pass away?” If you did not contemplate this aspect of managing an online account, you would not be alone. Most people do not even read the terms and conditions when creating online accounts. Instead, we take it for granted that digital accounts will make our lives easier, not harder.
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The 2014 State of Florida legislative session brought about several changes in the area of trusts and estates. Among those passing into law was the amendment to the antilapse provisions of the Florida Trust Code (Florida Statutes Chapter 736). As amended, the new provisions mirror the language and intent of similar provisions contained in the Florida Probate Code (Florida Statutes Chapter 732). It is assumed at law that in order for a named beneficiary to take under a devise, the beneficiary must survive the settlor or testator. Antilapse provisions contemplate the status of a devise to a beneficiary who predeceases the settlor or testator, a contingency presumably unanticipated by the settlor or testator. Such provisions address the consequences of the common law rule of lapse in attempting to reflect the presumed intent of the testator.
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