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Should you and your spouse use the same estate planner?

Nobody enjoys thinking about death, but as we all know, it’s inevitable. We also know that in most cases, one spouse will outlive the other. That means both partners need to be involved with planning their estate.

But do they do it together or on their own? As Forbes outlines, the first thing couples should decide is if they want to have the same estate planning attorney or hire their own lawyers. It’s most cost-effective to do it together, since they would pay once instead of twice. Working together makes it easier to find documents and opens the lines of communication, which never hurts in a marriage or domestic partnership. If you have a blended family, however, separate estate plans might be an option to avoid hurt feelings among children and stepchildren.

Forbes offers the following tips to help couples decide if they should seek separate estate planning attorneys. Go separate if:

  • “Only one of you has children. Most people want to leave their estate to their children. Those who are childless don’t have such a tie. The risk, if the parent dies first, is that the childless spouse or partner will dish out the children. This risk can be addressed in estate planning documents, but it’s better to have your own lawyer prepare them.
  • Rich spouse, poor spouse. While not always definitive, a disparity between the two of you–of income or wealth–could adversely affect the estate planning for the spouse or partner who has less.
  • One of you is economically dependent on the other. This alone is usually not a reason to get separate lawyers, but might be when combined with other circumstances on this list.
  • One of you does all of the talking. Your estate planner ought to observe whether one of you dominates the other. It could be a sign of a communication problem between the two of you. The one who is strongly influenced (or oppressed) will certainly know that’s the case, but may not be at liberty to point it out.
  • Length of the relationship. The shorter the relationship, the greater the likelihood that you should get separate lawyers.
  • The number of past relationships. The greater the number of past relationships one, or both of you, have had, the stronger the need for separate representation.
  • There’s a prenup. If it was important enough to have been separately represented in an earlier agreement–whether a prenuptial or a property agreement–it is probably important enough to have separate lawyers for estate planning.
  • A big age difference. The greater the age difference between you, the greater the need to consider separate representation.
  • Skeletons in the closet. Secrets can have an insidious impact on relationships and they tend to come out during the estate planning process. Maybe one of you has another lover or a child whose existence has been a secret. If you are both working with the same advisors, this can put your estate planners in a difficult spot when the secret comes to light.”

No matter what you decide, a Florida estate planning attorney can walk you and your spouse through all your estate planning needs.

Source: http://bit.ly/2tixEr2

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

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.

What makes a will legal in Florida?

In Florida and most other states, anyone who is at least 18 years old and owns property can under law have a will. Many people might falsely believe that a will needs to be complicated to be legal. That’s not the case. There are things you should know, according to Florida statute, before you draft or change your will. This is especially true if you have a will, but are a new resident of Florida.

Under Florida statute 732.502, Every will must be in writing. It also must include:

  • The signature of the person, also knows as the testator, who created it. The signature needs to be at the end, or it must be subscribed at the end by another person in the testator’s presence.
  • At least two witnesses who can attest to the signature.
  • The attesting witnesses must sign the will in the presence of the testator and in the presence of each other.

If you believe your estate is simple, with few assets or instructions to lay out, a handwritten will is an option. It must be completely in your own handwriting, signed and dated. It must also be legible and be clear in its instructions: State who you are leaving your belongings to and so forth. It doesn’t have to be notarized or signed by a witness, however, it can be invalidated if any portion of it is typed, appears unclear or doesn’t follow the rules laid out by law.

Florida law does not recognizes what is called a nuncupative will. It is made verbally in the presence of witnesses, often when a person is dying and a written will is not an option.

If your estate is large, think about a more formal, complex will to ensure your wishes are met.

Regardless of which way you go, you should seek the advice of a qualified estate planning attorney with knowledge of California law to ensure your wishes are carried out the way you want. If your will isn’t recognized legally, your estate could end up in probate. Probate often causes hurt feelings and financial headaches for the loved ones you’ve left behind.

Also, If you ever want to change your will or disinherit someone, an attorney’s assistance is important to see it through.Even smaller estates can have complexities foreseeable only by an experienced attorney.

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 shouldn’t I include in my will?

Everyone, no matter their age, should have a thorough estate plan in place to protect their loved ones after they are gone. Some studies have shown that 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.

If you have a will as part of your estate plan, good for you. You’ve taken the most important step you can take to plan your family’s future. But believe it or not, there are some things you shouldn’t include in your will, according to estate planning attorneys and financial experts.

Don’t leave your funeral wishes in your will. The truth is, most final affairs and settling of the estate begins after the funeral has ended and the out-of-towners have returned home. If you have ideas of what you want your funeral to be like, or how you want to be buried or cremated, don’t leave them in the will. It might be too late and your family members could feel as though they have let you down. Instead, talk to your spouse, children or other close family members and friends about your wishes. You can even give them or the chosen executor of your estate a written outline of how you’d like to be honored in a funeral or memorial service and whether you prefer to be buried or cremated.

Don’t leave anything to a pet. Pets are family, no question. But in the eyes of Florida lawmakers, pets cannot own property. Instead, choose a person you’d like to care for your pet if you die, along with money to care for your dog, cat, bunny or whatever animal you own and love.

Don’t leave property you co-own in a will. If you own property in a joint tenancy your share of that property automatically belongs to the surviving co-owner after you die. A will provision leaving your share would have no effect unless the other co-owner dies when you do.

Don’t leave property you’ve placed in a trust, including a revocable trust (which is a trust that can be modified before you die if your circumstances change). Property that is put into a trust passes automatically to the beneficiary, such as a child, that you have already chosen. It’s outlined in a trust document, so it cannot be passed on as property in a will.

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.

Florida probate law: An overview

Probate court is often needed to determine who should receive the assets of a person who has died, especially if he or she did not have a legal will in place. Most estate planning attorneys, as well as the Florida Bar Association, can explain the probate process to families. Here is an overview, including why probate is often necessary.

It’s a myth that only people without a will will have an estate that ends up in probate. If someone dies with a will, it isn’t valid unless it’s entered into probate court. Probate also ensures that debts are paid by the estate.

If someone dies without a will, probate is a must under Florida law to ensure a person’s assets are passed on to his or her legal heirs. The unfortunate truth about probate though, is that assets might be passed on to an heir that the person who died would not have intended, such as a friend or unmarried partner.

The law is clear. For example, if someone dies leaving behind a husband or wife and children, the surviving spouse inherits all of the probate estate. The same would happen if there were no children in the picture. If an unmarried person dies but leaves behind children, the kids inherit the entire estate. If the deceased person has neither a spouse nor children, the probate estate goes to parents or brothers and sisters.

Keep in mind, the process in Florida applies only to what are considered probate assets, which are assets that are only in the name of the person who died, or the person and a co-owner, but the transfer of ownership is in question. Real estate is a probate asset. A bank account or an investment account is not.

The best way to handle probate, whether there is a will involved or not, is to seek the help and guidance of an experienced Florida estate planning attorney, who will guide you and your family through the entire process. And, if you don’t have a will get one. That will save your family from a long, expensive and potentially damaging probate battle.

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.

How do I know if my elderly parent has dementia – and is incapacitated?

It’s tough to watch our parents grow older. The moms and dads who were once strong and in charge often seem to change and need us more as they enter their final years. It can be worrisome, especially if they live alone and handle all of their health and medical decisions.

There might come a time to enact a durable power of attorney for your parents, especially if one or both suffers from dementia. A durable power of attorney can, in additional to handling all financial decisions, authorize medical care. That includes consent to proceed with or terminate all medical and surgical procedures on your parent’s’ behalf, including an agreement that falls under the Life-Prolonging Procedures Act of Florida.

How do you know if your parent has dementia, and therefore is incapacitated and needs you enact the durable power of attorney? Does your parent suffer from dementia — or confusion due to old age? There are ways to tell between the two, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

  • In normal aging, the body and brains slows down, though intelligence remains stable.  Older people are less physically and mentally flexible, and they need time to process information in many cases. Memory changes occur as well, and it’s common to struggle to remember names of people, places and other things. Normal aging, though, does not interfere with daily life.
  • Dementia describes a set of symptoms that may be caused by a number of different brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, that cause mental decline severe enough to disrupt daily life. Dementia affects core brain functions, including short-term memory,  the ability to write or speak, the ability to understand and use symbols, maps, etc. and the ability to correctly judge where objects are and the ability to plan, reason, solve problems and focus on a task.

Whether your parent or parents suffer from dementia or are simply growing older, a durable power of attorney can protect them. You can do it now, while they are still healthy.  Under Florida law, a durable power of attorney is signed and goes into effect immediately. There is no waiting period, including waiting until the person or loved one suffers incapacitation and cannot make financial and healthcare decisions on their own.

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.

Medicare, long-term care planning, and money

A story reported by The Motley Fool said said that most Americans don’t have enough money to cover all of the health needs they will likely have as they age. A retired couple who are both age 65, for example, will spend about $260,000 in out-of-pocket healthcare expenses before they die.

It’s no question that Medicare is imperative to the health and care of seniors in Florida and across the country. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of people older than 65 will double, from 40 million to 84 million, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

People are living longer, and the statistics support that: People age 80 and older will triple; those in their 90s and 100s will quadruple by 2050. Medicare per capita spending rises with age, the foundation reports, which could cause problems for the program down the road as lawmakers look for cuts. Medicare spending in 2016 amounted to $588 billion. This represents 15 percent of the $3.9 trillion federal budget last year, or about $1 out of every $7 in federal spending.

If you or an elderly relative becomes ill or suffers an injury, Medicare will help pay for rehab in a skilled nursing facility, up to a point, and with rules. Both Medicare Part A and Part B is likely needed in most cases.

Part A is hospital insurance that helps cover inpatient care in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, hospice, and home health care. Most paid for Part A in Medicare taxes for years, long before they retired.

Part B helps cover outpatient care, durable medical equipment, home health services, and other medical services. Part B requires a premium each month which is taken directly from Social Security checks. Most people pay just over $100 a month for part B.

Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care or custodial care. Everyone should have an estate plan in place that includes long-term care planning, trusts and other investments that can provide income and pay for healthcare coverage if needed. Don’t rely on the government to care for you when you need help. Talk to an estate planning attorney today with experience in elder care and long-term care planning — and give you and your family peace of mind.

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.

What is the difference between and revocable trust and an irrevocable trust – and which is a better fit for me?

A living trust is a trust create to help you manage your assets and offer protection in the event that you become ill, disabled or suffer dementia as you age. It’s designed to protect you and your family before you die. A living trust in Florida is an agreement between you, a trustee and a beneficiary.

There are two common types of living trusts recognized in Florida: Revocable and irrevocable. Each has benefits you should consider that can help your family avoid probate and probate fees.

A revocable trust means that you amend or change the terms of the trust. That’s beneficial, because it doesn’t lock you into a plan just in case your circumstances change. Most trust agreements allow for the withdrawal of money or assets. If you become incapacitated, your trustee can manage your assets, pay bills and invest. A revocable trust can help you get things in place so the transition is easier for your family after you die. That alone can save your family time and money.

An irrevocable living trust, on the other hand, is a trust you cannot change. It is usually only done to produce tax or asset protection, such as to ensure a person receives an inheritance. Most people prefer a revocable living trust because of the freedom it offers.

Whoever you choose as the trustee distributes the trust property to your beneficiaries or to continues to manage it for their benefit after you die. The trust can instruct division of property or help you manage your property while you are still alive. You can authorize a co-trustee to manage the property if you should become ill, injured or otherwise  incapacitated. A living trust negates the need for a guardian, who would have to be appointed and would serve the same purpose for you and your family.

A revocable trust or an irrevocable trust can give you and your family peace of mind depending on your needs. Keep in mind, though, that you will still need to craft a legal will as part of your overall estate planning. A will is backup for any property that is not included in the trust.

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.