Articles Posted in Personal Representative

Legal Capacity and Estate Planning- How to Help Safeguard a Will from Future Litigation

When a loved one grows older, their caretakers’ ever growing to-do list can be overwhelming. After dealing with the basic, everyday needs of an aging family member, it may sometimes be easy to overlook the fact that your loved one does not have a valid will. By not addressing this issue, the task of handling final affairs and estate distribution after their death becomes increasingly more difficult. If you are responsible for someone who is at risk for developing Alzheimer’s, dementia, or any other disease that can affect their mental capacity, it is important that you consult with an estate planning lawyer who can ensure that a proper will is drafted in accordance with the laws of the state of Florida.

Florida courts have held that a will can be properly admitted to probate if the testator was competent at the time the will was executed.  Jervis v. Tucker, 82 So.3d 126 (FL 4th DCA 2002).  A testator will be found to have been competent if they possessed the ability to “mentally understand in a general way the nature and extent of the property to be disposed of, and the testator’s relation to those who would naturally claim a substantial benefit from the will, as well as a general understanding of the practical effect of the will as executed.” American Red Cross v. Estate of Haynsworth, 708 So.2d 602, 605 (FL 3rd DCA 1998). Florida courts will apply these standards and also evaluate the facts specific to a particular case in order to determine if a testator was of “sound mind” when they created the will. Estate planning lawyers play an important role in this process and have the responsibility of ensuring that the testator is legally competent at the time the will is created.

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.

Expanding Florida’s Homestead Exemption

Florida voters will have an important decision to make for the 2018 election—whether to raise the Florida homestead exemption. At first glance, the legislation offers a substantial property tax break for homeowners; however, if approved, the homestead exemption bill may cost counties and cities enormous revenue.

The Florida legislature created the homestead exemption in 1934 to aid residents affected by the Depression. The homestead exemption—then $5,000.00—allowed residents to keep their homes despite inability to pay property taxes. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/legislature/florida-homestead-exemption-increase-closer-to-ballot/2322311. In 1980, under Democratic Governor Bob Graham, Florida voters raised the exemption to $25,000.00, and again in 2008 to $50,000.00 under Republican Governor Charlie Crist. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/legislature/florida-homestead-exemption-increase-closer-to-ballot/2322311. Now, the November 2018 ballot will give Florida voters the choice to raise the exemption even higher.

Do incapacitated wards need prior court approval to marry? Subsequent ratification is enough

Already in 1888, the United States Supreme Court first recognized the right to marry as one of the fundamental rights of all individuals.  Describing marriage as “the most important relationship in life,” the Court went on upholding that marriage is “the foundation of the family and society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.”  Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888).

Regretfully, when it comes to marriage of incapacitated persons, they are sometimes the victims of emotional abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.  For this reason, a guardianship court may remove an incapacitated person’s right to marry if there is clear and convincing evidence that he or she is incapacitated with respect to that right.  Fla. Stat. 744.3215(2)(a); 744.331(6).  However, even when a guardianship court does not remove the right to marry, an incapacitated person’s right to marry becomes “subject to court approval” when his or her right to contract has been removed.  Fla. Stat. 744.3215(2)(a).  This legal framework aims at protecting the ward by allowing a court to assess the risks of abuse and exploitation, while upholding the ward’s fundamental right to marry, to the greatest extent possible.

Priority of Medical Decision-Makers when Incapacitated

Throughout life, many unexpected things can happen. Have you ever wondered who will get to make difficult medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to? The Florida Legislature has, in § 765.401 Fla. Stat. (1992), made a list in order of priority of such proxies.

The first person on the list is a court-appointed guardian if one has previously been appointed and has been authorized to consent to medical treatment for the patient. Likewise, a guardian advocate previously appointed by the court will be first in line to make decisions for one who has a developmental disability. It is important to note that guardian appointments are not required before a medical decision can be made.

4th DCA Recognizes Homestead Exception for Alimony Creditors

The Florida Constitution provides powerful homestead protection against creditors.  Generally, only three types of super-creditors can breach this protection – (1) government entities with a tax lien or assessment on the property; (2) banks or other lenders with a mortgage originating from the purchase of the property; and (3) creditors with liens originating from work or repair performed on the property.

However, a recent decision by the District Court of Appeal for the 4th District confirmed a “long recognized” fourth category of super-creditors – alimony creditors.  The facts of this case are as follows:  Robert Spector (“Husband”) and Renee Spector (“Former Wife”) divorced in 1996, and agreed in a post-nuptial agreement that Husband would (1) pay Former Wife $5,000 per month in alimony until his or her death, or until she remarried; (2) transfer to Former Wife the title and interest in their marital home; and (3) maintain a $750,000.00 life insurance policy for Former Wife’s benefit.  Subsequently, Husband was held in civil contempt for “willful and deliberate failure to comply with the alimony provisions” of the post-nuptial agreement and was also denied a bankruptcy petition as alimony arrearages were not subject to bankruptcy discharge.

MORE MONEY, MORE PROBLEMS? 6 DO’S AND DONT’S OF ESTATE PLANNING AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

At the end of last year it seemed as if every day there was a new report of a celebrity dying unexpectedly. As fans around the world mourned the death of some of Hollywood’s most iconic figures, reports of their estate planning, or lack thereof, also filled the headlines.

Prince: Intestacy and streaming music rights collide

Ademption: When devises are actually not part of the estate

Many unexpected things can happen in the period between the execution of a will and the death. For example, a decedent may devise the family house in Key West to her granddaughter. Several years after executing the will, the decedent gets into financial troubles and sells the Key West house. With other matters on her mind, the decedent never gets to adjust the will and passes away. Does the granddaughter still have a right to the house? Does she get money instead? Does she get anything at all?

The legal term describing a situation when a particular asset devised in the will is not part of the estate is ademption by extinction. The Florida statutes cover ademption in Section 732.606 for specific devises, and Section 732.605 for securities. Ademption is not uncommon. The decedent may have owned the asset and later sold it, or could have never owned it all. The situation would be different if the grandmother gave the granddaughter the Key West house as a gift before passing away. In that situation, the granddaughter’s devise would have been satisfied during the grandmother’s lifetime. Accordingly, this legal concept is called ademption by satisfaction and is not discussed in this blog post.

Estate Planning: Income Tax Strategies

            Law firms have had to take a spike in income tax rates, a decline in the estate tax rate, and an increasing annual estate tax exemption threshold into account in devising estate planning strategies. There has been a decreasing gap between the income tax rates and estate tax rates: estate tax has moved to a maximum rate of 40% and a $5.45 million exclusion in 2016, from a 55% percent tax rate and a $675,000 exclusion in 2001; the maximum tax rate on ordinary income is 39.6%, up from a low of 35 percent in 2003; the maximum long-term capital gains tax rate increased to 20% from 15% in that same time frame. Furthermore, in 2013 an additional 3.8% surtax was added for net investment of individuals, estates, and trusts over statutory threshold amounts in certain cases. While these numbers might make you think that estate planning is only necessary for the super wealthy, financial planners advise that it is not. Taxes are just one consideration of estate planning: it is critical to plan for an orderly transfer of assets or for other circumstances such as incapacitation.

The capital gains tax rate – the long-term rate of 20% plus the 3.8% surtax – is significant because it affects the basis of assets. When a decedent dies, her beneficiaries get the benefit of a step-up in basis, which is appreciated assets held in the decedent’s estate are readjusted to fair market value at the time of inheritance. Through this mechanism, the beneficiary receives an income tax advantage because she is not liable for the capital gains tax on any appreciation that occurs up to the point she inherits the asset.

Pet Estate Planning

Leaving millions of dollars in a will for a pet seems ludicrous. For example, Leona Helmsley’s will made her pet, Trouble, the richest dog in the world—she bequeathed the Maltese twelve million dollars while leaving most of her family members with nothing. But pet estate planning is possible and in many cases practical. Similar to human beneficiary trusts, pet trusts may be drafted to provide legal instructions for the care of a dearly loved pet after its owner’s death. While pets are legally categorized as property, many people consider their pets companions—even family members. Without legal arrangements, a pet is often placed in a shelter and faces abandonment or euthanasia. Finding out what can be included in a pet trust and how it can be secured can help protect a pet from future uncertainty.

Florida law explicitly allows a trust to be created for a pet.  Under Florida Statute §736.0408, the trust may be created during the settlor’s lifetime and it terminates upon the death of the pet or, if more than one pet is provided for, upon the death of the last surviving pet. However, many important factors and details must be considered when drafting a will or trust for a pet, as significant problems arise when administering the will or trust.