CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: What We Are Doing to Protect Our Clients

Articles Posted in Reopening an Estate

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.

Social Distancing and Signing Documents: Can a Beneficiary Act as a Witness?

During COVID-19, we have had to adapt the way we sign estate planning documents while maintaining safe social distancing. Although businesses are slowly reopening and things appear to be getting back to a sense of normal, it is still important to be cautious and keep our exposures to a minimum. One of the strategies Chepenik Trushin LLP has adjusted is to make the estate planning process entirely remote, with phone and video conferences, email communications, and sending estate planning documents through regular or electronic mail with detailed instructions for clients to sign on their own. For some clients, this has worked well, but for others, it has been a challenge to find two witnesses and a notary, which are required for many estate planning documents. A frequent question that has arisen is whether a relative or a beneficiary may serve as the witness to a will or other estate planning documents, such as a trust.

For a number of years, Florida law disfavored beneficiaries under a will from also being witnesses to the will. Under current Florida law, a will or codicil is not invalid simply because the will or codicil is signed by an interested witness. Fla. Stat. § 732.504(2). Based on the Florida statute, a beneficiary can serve as a witness to a will.

How to Safely get Documents Notarized During a Pandemic

For the indefinite time being, social distancing and staying home are necessary safety measures. However, that does not mean the world stops. People still have needs and documents that must be notarized. There are ways to do that without leaving the house and risking exposure.

Florida Statute sections 117.201-117.305 went into effect on January 1, 2020 and allows notarization to occur remotely once a notary completes an application and training course. Usually, when getting a document notarized, the notary either confirms that they know you personally or verifies your identity by looking at government-issued identification. Now, according to Florida Statute § 117.265, via audio-video communication, a notary can do the same thing with an additional step. If the notary does not know you personally, you can remotely show your government-issued identification and then answer a few questions to confirm your identity. See Fla. Stat. § 117.265; See also Fla. Stat § 117.295. Once that is complete, the notary can watch you electronically sign the document and notarize it from his/her computer. When looking for a notary to provide this online service, look for someone that is a Remote Online Notary, also known as a “RON.” Not all notaries are qualified to perform this service remotely. The lawyers and staff at Chepenik Trushin LLP can help you through this process, keeping you and your loved one’s safe.

Do I Need to Amend My Trust Because of the Secure Act?

Last month, in our last blog, we addressed the basics of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (the “SECURE Act’) and how retirement plan beneficiary designations will be impacted for individuals who die in or after 2020. But what if you already set up an estate plan with a trust as beneficiary of your retirement account? Do you need to amend your trust or your beneficiary designation form as a result of the passage of the SECURE Act?

The answer is that it depends on whether the trust is an “accumulation” trust or a “conduit” trust and how you want such retirement accounts to be treated. Generally, in an accumulation trust, assets payable to the trust are to be distributed in the trustee’s discretion. A conduit trust, on the other hand, generally requires that assets must be distributed to the beneficiary – in other words, the trust simply acts as a conduit to deliver the assets to the beneficiary, and the assets cannot stay (that is, cannot accumulate) in the trust. It is possible to draft the trust as an accumulation trust with respect to all assets except retirement accounts, just as it is possible to draft a conduit trust that requires only outright distributions of retirement accounts (leaving the remainder of the funds at the trustee’s discretion).

What if Your Beneficiaries Predecease You?

When preparing a will, people assume that the beneficiaries that they name will outlive them. Unfortunately, testator’s live beyond the life of their beneficiaries all the time. What happens to the gift left for someone who is now deceased?

The original common law understanding was that if a beneficiary predeceases the testator, the specific gift to that beneficiary would “lapse,” and therefore fall back into the residuary estate of the testator. However, in some instances, Florida “Anti-Lapse statutes” may change this result. In Florida, barring any contrary intent appearing in the will, if the devise is to the testator’s grandparent or any descendant of a grandparent, and the devisee predeceases the testator, the devise passes onto the devisee’s surviving descendants. Thus, a lapse is avoided when the specific gift is to the testator’s grandparents or descendant of grandparents. However, a devise to anyone who is not a grandparent or descendant of a grandparent would still lapse if that devisee predeceased the testator, unless a contrary intent appeared in the will.

Estate Planning with Digital Assets: Should I Give My Passwords to My Personal Representative (PR)?

Much of our access to information is protected by passwords. In the context of estate planning and probate, passwords can lead to expensive complications and third-party subpoenas. For this reason, an important aspect of modern estate planning is planning in such a way that fiduciaries will be able to access the financial and other electronic documents belonging to a decedent.

Florida law gives personal representatives and trustees certain powers with regard to accessing certain digital assets, but such powers are useless unless the fiduciary knows the passwords to access these accounts. Your passwords should not be in your will, as a will may become may be a public document, but you may want to consider maintaining a list, including log-in and password information, for all of your digital assets (including, for example: email accounts; electronic documents; software; internet sites; online user accounts; social media accounts; and electronic content, such as music or photography collections). A viable alternative may be programs or applications that safely store passwords. Some internet browsers have built-in password storage. If you use such programs, you must ensure that your fiduciaries know the master password that will allow them to see the other passwords.

Are Actions Taken Before Appointment as Personal Representative Valid? Yes, if the Actions Were Beneficial to the Estate

Florida law states that the duties and powers of a personal representative commence upon appointment. You may be named as personal representative in a decedent’s will, you are not legally considered a personal representative until the court appoints you. But what happens if you need to take action regarding an estate before a court officially appoints you as the personal representative of the estate, such as paying bills or filing a lawsuit? As it turns out, under the relation back doctrine, any act that you do on behalf of the estate becomes valid after you are appointed the personal representative, if such actions are beneficial to the estate. Florida courts have also clarified that performing the duties of a personal representative is considered beneficial to the estate.

Florida’s Relation Back Doctrine is found in Fla. Stat. § 733.601, which states, “The powers of a personal representative relate back in time to give acts by the person appointed, occurring before appointment and beneficial to the estate, the same effect as those occurring after appointment. A personal representative may ratify and accept acts on behalf of the estate done by others when the acts would have been proper for a personal representative.”

ESTATE PLANNING: CRYPTO CURRENCIES AND DIGITAL ASSETS

Although we all unquestionably live in a digital age at least for the past two decades and the legislatures are adopting new laws every day to reflect this reality, digital estate planning remains one of the areas where relying on state-made laws might not be enough. Laws in this area are scarce and only of a general nature. What happens with our digital assets after we die is usually controlled by private companies that store the data. For that reason, and because of the specific nature of digital assets, it is advisable to take these matters in your own hands.

What is a digital estate planning? It is a estate planning that covers any of your digital assets, including cryptocurrencies, websites, email accounts, social network accounts, cloud accounts, and all content stored or communicated trough these tools. What sets these assets apart from the more traditional ones is the fact that there might not be any person other than you who is aware of those assets or who could access them. In other words, no official register, no tax records, no bills, no paper contracts. Yet these assets may have a great value, both personal and monetary.

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 actual 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 any value 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 case, 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.

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.

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