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Articles Posted in Real estate

Bernie’s “For the 99.5% Act”: Is It Time to Start Thinking about Tax Planning?

For the year 2021, each individual has $11,700,000.00 of estate tax credit (or $23,400,000.00 for married couples), otherwise known as the “applicable exclusion amount.” For estates that exceed the applicable exclusion amount, the tax rate is up to 40.00% of the amount in excess of the applicable exclusion amount. The current estate tax credit is scheduled to maintain that level, indexed for inflation, until December 31, 2025, at which point the applicable exclusion amount will be reduced to approximately $6,000,000.00 ($12,000,000.00 for married couples).  However, since the Biden administration proposed major estate tax reform, there has been much discussion about whether the estate tax credit will be reduced earlier.

On March 25, 2021, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the “For the 99.5% Act,” which proposed, among others, the following tax reforms:

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.

Homestead Protection: Can You Lose It in Probate?

A person’s home (homestead) is often the most important asset in their estate plan because of the monetary and sentimental value that is inherent in a person’s main residence. Florida has special rules that govern a person’s primary residence, known as homestead property. Unless a creditor is the IRS, a mortgagee, or a laborer that performed work on the home, a homestead property is safe from creditors’ claims. Essentially, the homestead is exempt from a forced sale of the property unless there is a special creditor.

To qualify for homestead protection, a person must be a permanent resident of Florida, and the homestead must be that person’s primary place of residence, among other rules. This means that second homes and investment properties are ineligible for such protection. However, there is no monetary cap associated with the exemption, so a Florida resident that invests millions of dollars into their primary residence will receive full protection.

Does My Will Control My Joint Property?

There are several different ways to hold real property with another individual in Florida. The three main ones are: 1) tenancy in common, 2) joint tenancy with a right of survivorship, and 3) tenancy by the entirety. The way co-ownership of real property is classified may have significant impacts on the disposition of an estate after one of the owners dies.

In Florida, the default classification of real estate ownership is known as tenancy in common. If a property title lists only the names of owners without specifying another classification, there is a presumption that the property is a tenancy in common (unless the individuals are married). Additionally, unless specifically stated otherwise, tenants in common own equal shares of the property. When a tenant in common dies, the real property passes according to that person’s estate plan. This type of ownership will ensure that the property will flow through the owner’s estate. However, unless this property is held by a mechanism that can avoid probate proceedings (e.g. a Revocable Trust), it must go through the time consuming, expensive and public probate process to transfer title to the heirs.

COVID 19 – Is Your Estate In Order? Non-Probate Transfers and Pitfalls of Beneficiary Designations

In the wake of the recent Corona virus pandemic, many people are understandably concerned about their estate plan. A common misconception is that if you have executed a will or even a trust, then you are all set. In fact, it may not be that simple. In fact, a will is not the only instrument capable of passing down an estate to the decedent’s heirs, and some assets may not be controlled by your will and/or trust at all.

For example, in a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, the property automatically passes to the surviving owner. So, if A and B own a piece of land in joint tenancy and A dies, B immediately gains full ownership of the land, without a probate administration. A’s right to the land extinguishes and thus, A has nothing to leave to his heirs through a will, or otherwise. Another way to avoid probate is through accounts with Transfer-on-Death (TOD) clauses. An account with a TOD beneficiary will transfer the ownership of the account will be transferred to the beneficiary at the decedent’s death, without a will or trust.

I Already Have a Will; When Should I Update My Estate Planning Documents?

When someone executes a valid will, some people assume that if their wishes do not change, they should never have to revisit their estate plan. However, there are certain common events in life that should cause you to review or update your estate planning documents.

Marriage/Divorce: A surviving spouse is entitled to a percentage of a decedent’s estate, regardless of whether the decedent included the spouse in the decedent’s will. Interestingly, the amount that a surviving spouse is entitled to may vary depending on whether the will was executed before or after the marriage. If you execute a will and subsequently marry, the spouse will receive a share equal to what he or she would have had, had the testator died intestate. This typically amounts to either one-half of the estate (if there are children of the decedent who are not children of the surviving spouse), or the entire estate (if there are no surviving children, or if the surviving spouse and the decedent are the parents of the only surviving children). Fla. Stat, Sec. 732.301 and Sec. 732.102. In either case, this is more than the amount that a surviving spouse is entitled to under the “elective share” which is thirty percent (30%) of the decedent’s estate.

Avoiding Undue Influence, as an Adult Child, Assisting Parent’s Estate Planning

Writing a will is a process most people view as a terrible chore, but it is one that is necessary. The process may get further complicated when one spouse has already passed away and the adult children of the surviving elderly parent assist in managing and dividing finances. This has become more of a reality as more and more middle-aged children are caring for elderly parents. Perhaps, not surprisingly, this phenomenon is more pronounced in Florida, which according to the U.S. Census Bureau, leads the nation in terms of greatest share of its population aged 65 and older in 2010.

This scenario can lead to issues in estate planning especially if the parent is experiencing diminished mental capacity where too much of an adult child’s influence over estate planning decisions of the parent may bring legal problems such as legal charges of “undue influence.” Every state has its own undue influence laws to address these types of issues not only in the context of children’s undue influence on parents but others outside the family, such as a girlfriend or caretaker. In Florida, in order to raise a presumption of undue influence, a petitioner must show “(1) the existence of a confidential or fiduciary relationship between the decedent and the procurer of a will; (2) the active participation of the procurer in the planning and drafting of the will; and (3) the realization by the procurer of a substantial benefit under the provisions of the will.” These elements in Florida are found in common law as opposed to codified statutes so the court’s decision will be based on how convincing the evidence is in a case.

Seeking Paternity in Probate: Are You Out of Time?

When an estate enters probate and is being distributed, the distribution is usually between family members. Family members can include spouse, children from the marriage, parent, adopted child, aunt, cousin, etc. If there are issues or questions about the status of these individuals, they are usually litigated after the estate holder passes. But what if you are a child born out-of-wedlock? What status do you have and what rights do you have to the estate?

Under Fla. Stat. § 732.103, any children from the marriage are automatically deemed heirs of the estate, and entitled to a share of the intestate estate. But out-of-wedlock children have to establish paternity if they want to share in the distribution of the estate. But do these individuals have the opportunity to litigate the paternity after the father has passed? The opportunity is there, but it is subject to a statute of limitations under Fla. Stat. § 95.11(3)(b). The statute imposes a four year limitation for paternity actions generally, starting from the date the individual turns eighteen.

Foreign Property, Divorce, and Florida Probate Proceedings: Do not Assume Anything

          In Florida, if for some reason your marriage ends, there are some instances where your ex-spouse’s rights to inheritance under your estate plan are automatically severed. In Florida, the ex-spouse is automatically cut out of any estate planning documents, reducing the need to amend a will in the event of a divorce. Also, if a couple owns a house in Florida as tenants by the entireties, that joint interest is severed upon divorce and they become tenants in common. The divorce changes the property interest, and allows that each ex-spouse inherits their half, but the other half does not automatically transfer to the surviving ex-spouse. However, all of these automatic changes happen when the property is located in Florida. What changes if the property is located in a foreign country? A case out of the Second District Court of Appeals addressed the issue in Ebanks v. Ebanks.

Arthur and Diane Ebanks were divorced in Florida in 2008. Arthur executed his will on the day he filed for divorce in 2006. The Ebanks jointly owned three water front properties in the Cayman Islands. In his will, Arthur provided that upon his death, the property jointly held will pass to the survivor. The property in the Cayman Islands was owned under “joint proprietorship,” which is a form of holding title in the Cayman Islands which is similar to joint tenancy with right of survivor ship. Under “joint proprietorship” the interest of the deceased proprietor would transfer to the surviving proprietor. There is no law in the Cayman Islands dissolving a joint proprietorship in the event of divorce.

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