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It’s Important to Choose Special Needs Advocates on All Fronts

One of the most valuable services to secure for children and adults with special needs are those of an advocate. Advocates can be special needs attorneys or non-lawyer professionals who are supervised by attorneys. They can also be parents or family members of someone with special needs who self-advocates on their behalf. While levels of […]

Should I include life insurance in my estate plan?

Everyone should have an estate plan – and everyone should have life insurance. Some might not realize that there are ways to combine both so their heirs benefit the most.

An estate planning attorney can help you put your life insurance policy in a trust. Done properly, your beneficiaries would not have to prove their right to inherit assets in probate court.

You can designate your life insurance policy so that the trust is its beneficiary; that way, your death benefits flow directly into the trust. There are two kinds of living trust that work for this.

The first is a revocable living trust. Your attorney would name the trust which as your beneficiary, which would add to the death benefits you may have already placed in the trust. The nice thing about a revocable living trust is that it can be changed at any time, for whatever reason. This method immediately ties your life insurance payout to the rest of your estate plan.

An irrevocable living trust is similar, except that once it is in place it cannot be changed.

Whichever you decide, putting your life insurance into a trust protect the money from creditors and potential estate taxes. For instance, if you had a brokerage account worth $2 million, your heirs would be subject to federal estate taxes. It also may end up in probate, which can take years to settle and is usually expensive.

If your heirs inherited a $2 million life insurance policy that in which they beneficiary is an irrevocable trust, the money would be safe from federal estate taxes. Florida does not have a state inheritance or death tax.

Regardless, you would be much better off if you inherited $10 million as the beneficiary of an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT). The money would pass outside of Jack’s estate, completely removing those proceeds from the nasty (40%) federal estate tax as well as any state death or inheritance taxes that may apply.

The trustee of the life insurance trust would also be able to pass that money along quickly and without the oversight of the probate court. Your inheritance would reach you faster and without the tax burden. In fact, most life insurance policy claims are settled within 30 days.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

Preventing financial elder abuse

When beloved actor Mickey Rooney died in 2014 at the age of 93, he had only $18,000 in the bank, according to media reports. He said he had been a victim of elder financial abuse by his stepson and the stepson’s wife, claiming that the couple deliberately misled him about his own finances, used threatening and abusive language and refused him basic necessities, such as food and medicine. Rooney’s conservator sued, and secured a $2.8 million stipulated judgment against the stepson and his wife.

Financial elder abuse costs its victims nearly $3 million a year. Senior are most often likely to be abused by family members, but they also are victims of fraud and telephone scams.

The Elder Justice Roadmap, a 40-page federal report that includes interviews with 750 elder abuse experts, outlines five ways to prevent elder abuse. Here is a brief look at steps to take, as listed on Next Avenue.

“1. Awareness: The report calls for an increase in public awareness of elder abuse — a multi-faceted problem that requires a holistic, well-coordinated response in services, education, policy and research.

  1. Brain health: It also wants to see more research into brain health, with an enhanced focus on cognitive capacity (and incapacity) and mental health. These are critical factors both for elder abuse victims and for perpetrators.
  2. Caregiving: There should be better support and training for the tens of millions of paid and unpaid caregivers who play a critical role in preventing elder abuse, the Elder Justice Roadmap says.
  3. Economics: The authors want to see the costs of elder abuse quantified, particularly because this national problem includes huge fiscal costs to victims, families and society.
  4. Resources: The report says the nation needs to strategically invest more resources in services, education, research and expanding knowledge in order to reduce elder abuse in America.”

Caregivers, social workers, medical professionals and financial advisors need to be aware of the signs of elder abuse and know what to do if they suspect it.

Starting in 2018, securities firms will be required to try to take steps to do their part in preventing elder financial abuse, including obtaining contact information of a person who is trusted by the elderly client.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

What happens if I die without a will?

There are so many reasons to plan your estate, no matter how young or old you are. It’s important to think ahead to ensure peace of mind for your loved ones. And yet, 55 percent of Americans don’t have a will in place by the time they die. That leaves families vulnerable to stressful and costly legal battles that often drag on for years.

Facing your own mortality isn’t pleasant. But death is inevitable for all of us; it’s just a question of when. No matter your age or financial situation, you should consider:

Who will get custody of my children if you and your spouse die? How do I want to be buried? Who gets my house and money?

It’s easy to assume that everything will go to your spouse, or, if you aren’t married, your closest living relative. But that’s not always the case.

A person who dies without a will in place has died intestate. That means that legally, you would have zero influence over who receives your assets, which go into probate. Your relatives, as a result, could be left fighting over your estate in court, a costly and time-consuming process that could permanently damage their relationships with one another.

The Florida Probate Code outlines what is likely to happen if someone dies without a will based on his or her marital status, whether community or separate property (property obtained during or prior to the marriage) is involved and whether or not children and/or other relatives are in the picture. Here’s a look at the possibilities.

  • A spouse and children: The surviving spouse inherits all of the deceased spouse’s probate estate. If the surviving spouse has children with someone who is not the deceased’s children, the estate will be split in half between the surviving spouse and the deceased’s children. still receives the entire probate estate.
  • Descendants only: The descendants inherit the entire probate estate.
  • A spouse, but no children or other relatives:  The surviving spouse inherits the probate estate.
  • No spouse or children: The probate estate will go to the deceased’s parents or brothers and sisters.

Keep things as simple as possible for your family. Hire an experienced Florida estate planning lawyer and get a will in place as soon as possible.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

An elderly parents’ remarriage has implications for the entire family

Many people over the age of 55 remarry after their spouse dies or divorces them. According to the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of adults between the ages of 55 and 64 take the plunge again. At the same time, half of people older than 65 remarry. Men are more likely to remarry than women, the research shows.

But while remarriage can be a solution to loneliness, it can cause potential legal nightmares for adult children and other relatives when the husband or wife dies. A joyous wedding that likely brought two families together can divide the new spouse and the children from the first marriage when it comes to the deceased’s estate.

After actor and comedian Robin Williams died in 2014, his third wife and children from an earlier marriage battled in court over his watches, among other things. Williams had an organized estate plan, reports said, but had not included his personal items.

Estate planning attorneys and financial experts agree: If you plan to remarry, update your estate plan first. Lay out who you want to get everything – even mementos or small things you assume people wouldn’t want. Documenting every single asset is important. As long as the will shows the intent of the deceased, the courts are usually accommodating.

Before you remarry, you might consider an airtight prenuptial agreement. Most courts recognize a signed prenup even if the second or third spouse protests it after its creator has died. Most assets and finances in a remarriage shouldn’t be combined, anyway. Lay out that stipulation in your prenup, and don’t break it no matter the circumstances.

Some people choose to establish a QTIP trust as an option to protect adult children. A Qualified Terminable Interest Property trust rolls over the children’s assets into the surviving second spouse’s name so that he or she receives an inheritance. However, when he or she dies, the children from the first marriage are the beneficiaries, and will receive their share. An irrevocable living trust is also ideal because it cannot be changed once it is set up by the person before he or she dies.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to modifying your estate before your remarry. Protect yourself, your new spouse and your children. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney today.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

 

The fate of your 401(k) when you die

Anyone who is working and has a 401(k) likely worries about it from time to time. They might check to see how it’s doing and wonder if they should be putting a bigger percentage of their paycheck in every month.

But you also need to think about the fate of your 401(k) when you die. It’s not always up to you, especially if you remarry after your first spouse dies or if you get divorced.

Federal law mandates that a married 401(k) account holder’s retirement plan goes to the person’s spouse if he or she dies. No ifs, ands or buts.

The law stems from a 1984 Congressional bill signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. He did it so that married couples wouldn’t be able to sign away survivor benefits for one another in the event there were problems in the relationship. Despite the benefits the law provides, it can cause headaches for some families. Let’s say a man remarried after his first wife died. After her death, he had named his three adult children as beneficiaries. He filled out all the paperwork and he thought had everything in order.

But after the man passed, his new wife successfully sued, claiming she was entitled to the money in his 401(k). The courts would side with her because of the rules outlined in Reagan’s federal law. The decision came despite the fact that the children were named the beneficiaries.

The law is clear when it comes to 401(k) retirement plan assets if a married participant dies. The spouse gets the entire account, unless he or she has specifically waived the right in writing. If an employee opts to take a retirement plan payout as an annuity, he or she must choose a plan that will continue lifetime payments to the surviving spouse equal to at least half of the original benefit amount.

If you plan to remarry, look at your estate plan and determine if it needs updating. An experienced Florida estate planning attorney can help you modify your plan as necessary and explain your options.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

When should I draft a will?

Estate planning, especially the crafting of a legal will, is one of the most important financial decisions a person can make. A well-thought out will can help ensure that loved ones are protected after a person’s death. Do it now, no matter your age.

Estate planning involves laying out your assets and deciding who will receive them after you die. It also can involve financial, tax, medical and business planning.

In addition to asset distribution, a will can help you guide who will care for your minor children in the event you are killed, and you can dictate whether you want to be buried or cremated. That is one reason it’s important for parents with young children to have a will in place soon after a child is born. A will should be amended with each child who is added to the family.

It’s a myth that only wealthy people a will; anyone who owns property, including a house or car, should have an estate plan in place. If your estate is small, decide who should manage your estate, pay your last debts and handle the distribution of your assets. If you have a large estate, you should consider how to preserve your assets for loved ones and look at tax options to help your relatives avoid headaches while your estate is being settled.

No matter the size of your estate, your first steps should determine, among other things:

  • Your assets and their approximate value
  • Who will receive those assets and when
  • Who should manage those assets if you die or become incapacitated
  • Who should be responsible for guardianship of minor children
  • If you want any assets donated to charity
  • If you want the will to include a trust that can help care for children

In Florida, a person only needs to be 18 to have a will in place. When there is no will, Florida’s probate courts appoint someone who may or may not be known to you, to manage your estate. The subsequent cost of probate court might cause hardship for your loved ones.

Estate planning, including a will, is a must for people of all ages and incomes. Don’t wait. Talk to an experienced estate planning lawyer today.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

What is probate?

Probate in the state of Florida is the court’s process for settling a person’s estate. Found in state statutes’  chapters 731-735,  the Florida Probate Code allows the courts to pay a person’s debts as well as distribute his or her assets after death.

 

Probate courts in Florida have jurisdiction in the settling of estates, whether the deceased has a will in place or not. If there is a will, it isn’t valid unless it’s been admitted to probate, and assets cannot be passed to beneficiaries. Probate is often used to prevent fraud after someone dies and does not have a will in place.

 

The Florida Probate Code outlines what is likely to happen if someone dies without a will based on his or her marital status, whether community or separate property (property obtained during or prior to the marriage) is involved and whether or not children and/or other relatives are in the picture. Here’s a look at the possibilities.

 

  • A spouse and children: The surviving spouse inherits all of the deceased spouse’s probate estate. If the surviving spouse has children with someone who is not the deceased’s children, the estate will be split in half between the surviving spouse and the deceased’s children. still receives the entire probate estate.
  • Descendants only: The descendants inherit the entire probate estate.
  • A spouse, but no children or other relatives:  The surviving spouse inherits the probate estate.
  • No spouse or children: The probate estate will go to the deceased’s parents or brothers and sisters.

 

Keep in mind, debt and the courts are paid first. The distribution of the probate estate is subject to exceptions for homestead property, exempt personal property and a statutory allowance to the person’s spouse and descendants. All the rules are outlined in the Florida Probate Code.

 

Probate is complicated. It is expensive. It is lengthy. Probate often causes hurt feelings and financial headaches for the loved ones you’ve left behind. The best way to avoid probate is to draft a will or trust with a qualified Florida estate planning attorney. A legal will can help ensure your estate is properly handled by an executor you choose, instead of someone who ultimately may not be the best person for the role.
Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

Top misconceptions about estate planning: Part 2 of 2

 

There are many myths about estate planning, probably because it’s something most people don’t like to thing about that much.  We’ve taken the top 10 estate planning myths that could prove detrimental to your family and will tell you why they’re not true; here are the second 5:

You don’t need a lawyer to create an estate plan.  A Consumer Reports investigation found that online resources to draft wills and other estate planning documents usually don’t work well for most people.  This is because everyone’s situation is different, and most online services don’t take this into account.  To create an effective Florida estate plan, you should consult with a Florida estate planning attorney.

You have to use a trust to avoid probate.  While trusts are a great way to avoid the time and expense of probate and keep your financial information private, there are other ways to avoid probate.  For retirement accounts, annuities, life insurance and bank accounts, you can avoid probate by listing beneficiaries for each account.  Florida allows you to add a payable-on-death designation to bank accounts and CDs and a transfer-on-death registration for securities.  Florida does not allow for transfer-on-death deeds for real estate or a transfer-on-death registration for vehicles.  For real estate, there is a deed known as a “Lady Bird Deed” that functions like a transfer-on-death deed and is available for Florida residents.

Trusts avoid estate tax.  Certain trusts can be used to reduce or even eliminate estate tax liability, but all trusts in and of themselves do not automatically provide protection against estate taxes.

My estate is too small to worry about.  That may be true when it comes to estate taxes since the current estate tax exemption is $5.49 million for individuals and $10.98 for married couples.  However, estate planning is about much more than protection against taxes — an estate plan also provides protection for you in the event of your incapacitation, allowing you to name people to make financial and healthcare decisions for you.

Gift taxes are due on gifts to anyone over $14,000.  Gifts to anyone over $14,000 simply reduce your lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion amount ($5.49 million in 2017).  You will only owe gift taxes once you exceed the entire exclusion amount.  You still have to file a gift tax return so the IRS (and you) can keep track.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with your long-term care and Medicaid planning, please contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

 

Top 10 misconceptions about estate planning: Part 1 of 2

There are many myths about estate planning, probably because it’s something most people don’t like to thing about that much.  We’ve taken the top 10 estate planning myths that could prove detrimental to your family and will tell you why they’re not true; here are the first 5:

Estate planning is only for the rich.  On the contrary, estate planning is not just about money.  It’s about who will make healthcare or financial decisions for you if you become incapacitated, who will take care of your minor children if you die unexpectedly, how your healthcare decisions will be made and much more.  Estate planning is for anyone who will eventually die – which means everyone.

Estate planning is only for the elderly.  Was Amy Winehouse “elderly” when she died at 28?  We all know stories of celebrities who died too young, many without a will or estate plan.  And many of their estates are still being fought over in the courts.  This happens every day to “regular” people as well.  You are never too young for estate planning.

The state gets your assets if you die without a will.  The state will not get your assets if you die without a will, but a state probate court will decide where those assets go, according to each state’s intestacy laws.  In Florida, a spouse and children take precedence; after that, assets will go to parents, siblings, grandparents, or any other living relative.  If no relation to you exists, your assets will go to the state.

Having a will avoids probate.  Having a will does not avoid probate; it provides the court with guidance on who you want to inherit your assets, but it is public record and can be contested, adding more time and expense to an already long and expensive process.  And if you own real estate in more than one state, each property may have to go through probate in the state where it is located.

You need a lawyer to draft a will.  If you have very few assets and a simple estate, you can create a will at little or no cost by using one of a number of websites that offer these services.  However, it is usually best to have an estate planning lawyer review your draft will to ensure it complies with state law and accurately reflects your wishes.

At The Estate, Trust and Elder Law Firm, P.L. we help our Treasure Coast clients develop and implement comprehensive estate planning strategies personally tailored to their unique situation, needs, and goals.   Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.