Heir of the Dog & Intestate Will

Once upon a time there was a dog who lived in a great junkyard.  This junkyard had everything—broken furniture, old cars, and plenty of scratched up couch cushions.  There were shady spots and sunny spots, and high spots and low spots.  There were places where water collected for a convenient sip, and a vast infestation of tasty rodents.  It was everything a dog could want…and a cat’s paradise. In fact, there was a cat who coveted the junkyard and wanted it very badly for himself.  He had tried to sneak in, but the dog always told him, “No trespassing!” in no uncertain barks.  So the cat decided to wait it out.  Reasoning that cats have more lives than dogs, he figured he would get the junkyard when the dog died. Sure enough, one day the dog succumbed to his mortality.  The cat packed his bags and was all ready to move into the junkyard, but when he got there, a large puppy had already taken up residence. “Who are you?” asked the cat. “Heir of the dog,” answered the puppy. “But the dog had no will,” said the cat.  “How can you possibly be his heir?” At that point, the […] Read More

Where Is My Homestead Exemption?

Once there was an elephant who could remember where he put everything.  He knew where his spectacles were and where he had set the TV remote.  He could even find his car keys at all times, though it was very difficult for him to drive a car, given the fact that he was an elephant. Now the elephant had a son who was always very good to him.  So the father elephant decided to go ahead and deed his house over to his good son.  This seemed like a fine plan at the time; the father and son got along very well and the father wanted the son to have the house immediately upon his death.  However, when the elephants received their tax bill for the property that year, the amount due was quite a bit more.  The father elephant who could find everything was alarmed to see that the homestead exemption missing was from the tax bill. Where could it have gone?  The elephants looked under the table, in the couch cushions, and behind the refrigerator, but they could not find the homestead exemption anywhere. Finally the father elephant realized what he had done.  By putting his house in […] Read More

Words to Live by in Estate Planning

Estate planning has a vocabulary of words you do not necessarily come across in everyday conversation, but they can be handy terms when you are making decisions about asset distribution after your demise.  Here are some basic terms you may find helpful in estate planning: Beneficiary – someone who receives a gift or benefits from a trust Codicil – an amendment or addition to a will Decedent – the deceased person Devise – testamentary gift of real property Heir – person who is a spouse or descendant Intestate – person who passes away prior to creating a will Probate –the way the court verifies the will, makes sure certain debts are paid, and oversees the distribution of a decedent’s property.  Probate ensures that the court does not take shortcuts in asset distribution. While not everyone needs a will, if you decide to make one, make sure it is executed properly with two witnesses who are in the same room with you and each other.  Seek competent legal counsel to review your choices in estate planning, explain terms you might not understand, and to help ensure your will (if you write one) is executed properly. Read More

You Cannot Take It With You…Even If You Do Not Have a Will

What happens if you die without a will?  Answer:  You are still dead…and the State determines how your assets are distributed according to a legal formula.  It is called an Intestate Will. If you pass away without a will, Intestate Succession can run up to the grandparents and down your family tree until an appropriate heir(s) is/are found.  In the absence of a spouse or descendant, property can pass to a parent or sibling.  If there is none of the above, then a person who is a grandparent, aunt, uncle or first cousin may become a beneficiary. In Florida, a will can be typed or handwritten on toilet paper, but in order for it to be valid, it must be signed in front of two witnesses who sign in the presence of each other.  A notary public can join in to make the will “Self-Proving,” meaning the validity of the witnesses should not be challenged when it is time to admit the will to probate. The most important thing about a will is to make sure it is executed properly. Seek competent legal counsel to discuss whether you need a will, and if so, to ensure your will is properly […] Read More

What a Will Can Do for You After You Are Gone

Where there is a will, I want to be in it!  You cannot always predict what is going to happen in life, and death can be a real surprise.  A properly executed will puts you in control of what is going to happen to your property.  Generally, you can accomplish the following things with a will: Decide who gets your property (instead of the law making the decision). Name the personal representative (executor) of your will to manage your estate. You may create a trust in a will; whereby, the estate or part of the estate will be kept intact with income distributed or accumulated for the benefit of members of the family or others.  Minors can be cared for without the expense of proceedings for guardianship of property. Real estate and other assets may be sold without court proceedings (if your will adequately authorizes it). Make gifts to charity. Decide who bears any tax burden (instead of the law making the decision). Name a guardian for minor children. Estate Planning has a deadline.  Seek competent legal counsel to discuss whether you need a will, and if so, to ensure your will is properly executed.   Read More

Inheritance of the Seven Kids

Once upon a time, a mother goat had seven kids.  After a home invasion (in which all seven were eaten by a wolf but rescued by their mother) they lived happily ever after.  The seven kids grew up and moved out, and then one day, the mother goat died. Her homestead passed to her grown kids (as there were no minor children or spouse).  While all seven kids were living when she died, two of them died shortly thereafter.  One of the remaining five was very stubborn.  He did not want to wait for all the legal paperwork; instead, he wanted to sell his mother’s house right away and get the money. The stubborn kid was impatient but he was fair.  Despite the death of his two siblings, the grown kid planned to divide the proceeds equally seven ways, benefitting the heirs of his two deceased siblings.  However, even though the money was going to go where it should have gone, it would have messed up the real estate title, rendering the property uninsurable, and therefore not sellable. So the stubborn kid had to go butt his head against the courthouse until his mother’s house went through probate. Depending on […] Read More

Marital Disability

Marital Disability does not mean you get to park in a wheelchair accessible space.  Marriage comes with many benefits, but it also comes with a disability regarding sale of your homestead. There are a lot of different opinions about marriage.  The one the judge has is that you cannot sell your primary residence without your spouse’s permission…even if your spouse’s name is not on the deed. If you bought a homestead before you got married, your spouse does not own that property, but your spouse can prevent you from selling it.  That is not so much a spousal right as it is a marital disability. (Note that if you pass away without a will and with the homestead only in your name, then your spouse and children would share in ownership of the house.  However, if you convey the property from you to you and your spouse, then the property ownership goes solely to your spouse without probate or a will.  Please see an attorney to prepare the paperwork for this transaction to help ensure your intentions are properly fulfilled.)   Read More

Once Upon An Intestate Will

Once upon a time, Cinderella lived with her dad on a grand estate which he owned.  Then two very unfortunate things happened.  The first was that her father remarried, wedding a gold-digger who was a terrible stepmother.  And then the father died intestate, which meant that Cinderella shared ownership of the estate with her stepmother. Not everyone needs a will.  If you pass away without a will, the State has one for you; it is called an Intestate Will.  Without a will, the State runs up and down your family tree until they find an appropriate heir.  In the absence of a spouse or descendant, property can pass to a parent or sibling.  If there is none of the above, then a person who is a grandparent, aunt, uncle or first cousin may become a beneficiary. However, depending on your circumstances, you may want to control how your assets are distributed once you assume room temperature.  You may want to override an Intestate Will by writing a will of your own. Without a will from Cinderella’s father, the stepmother took her ‘share’ of the profits from the estate, and gave Cinderella charge of all the upkeep.  Cinderella was a clever […] Read More

Estate Planning in Mixed Company

Have you checked your probate lately?  Do you even know what that is?  My theory on probate is, get in, take care of it, get out.  Probate is not a dirty word and it does not have to be expensive. Probate is the way the court verifies the will, makes sure certain debts are paid, and oversees the distribution of a decedent’s property.  Probate ensures that the court does not take shortcuts in asset distribution. When someone dies, the ability to pay dies with him, not the debt.  The debt goes to the estate, and a personal representative takes care of estate taxes, bills, and the orderly distribution of property or cash.  A judge appoints the personal representative to assure that that person is qualified to act and not incompetent, incarcerated, or in-under-six-feet-of-dirt.  The personal representative has a duty to the heirs and the creditors.  He has an obligation to look for creditors and a duty to beneficiaries. Probate can take time, though.  In some cases, depending on the size of the estate, tax implications, and desires of the testator, probate-avoidance methods, including trusts and pre-death distributions, are appropriate.  However, do not let anyone scare you into purchasing an estate […] Read More

Planning Ahead – What A Will Accomplishes

Some people like to plan ahead.  They like to know what is going to happen…even after they are dead.  Those people execute a will. Plenty of people have died without a will, including Abraham Lincoln, Jimi Hendrix, Sonny Bono, Stieg Larsson, Pablo Picasso, and Howard Hughes.  You do not have to have your asset distribution set out before a doctor signs your death certificate.  Not having a will is not going to keep you alive.  If you die without a will, your stuff gets distributed to your heirs according to a legal formula. However with a will, you can accomplish certain things, such as: 1. You decide who gets your property instead of the law making the choice for you. 2. You may name the personal representative (executor) of your will as you choose, provided the one named can qualify under Florida law. A personal representative is one who manages an estate, and may be either an individual or a bank or trust company, subject to certain limitations. 3. A trust may be created in a will whereby the estate or a portion of the estate will be kept intact with income distributed or accumulated for the benefit of members […] Read More