Category Archives: Blog Series

Common Myths Regarding Estate Planning – Ask Heidi

 

In my practice, clients come to me with preconceived ideas regarding Estate Planning, and many of them are incorrect. Due to this, I decided to create a blog series to debunk the most common myths. 

Estate planning is about defining your legacy during your lifetime, enabling you to enjoy the impact it has on the people and organizations you support; ensuring loved ones who depend on your income are protected in the event of your incapacity or death; and ensuring your wishes and preferences are communicated and can be met should you require long-term care, among other goals. It helps to answer important questions, including who will have the legal authority to act on your behalf if you’re unable to do so during your lifetime, whether that’s managing your assets or important healthcare decisions and who is going to be tasked with making sure it happens.

To help clarify the role of estate planning, it’s important to debunk some of the most common myths, beginning with: Who needs an estate plan? 

MYTH #1: Estate planning is only for those with high net worth. 

Estate planning is not only for the 1%.

Often, people believe that estate planning only benefits the uber wealthy, but nothing could be further from the truth. If you own property and assets or have loved ones that depend on you to provide for their income or care, you have an estate and need a plan—regardless of your estate size. Estate planning is something everyone needs to engage in regardless of age, the estate size, or marital status. If you have a bank account, investments, a car, home, or other property—you have an estate. More importantly, if you have a spouse, minor children, or other dependents, an estate plan is critical for protecting their interests and their future income needs. 

An estate plan can help you accomplish these and other important goals: 

  • Name your Power of Attorney & Health Care Surrogate should you become incapacitated and unable to manage your affairs during your lifetime.
  • Document the type of care you prefer to receive should you become ill or incapacitated, including any life-prolonging medical care you do or do not wish to receive. Express your wishes and preferences for funeral arrangements and how related expenses will be paid. 
  • Protect those who depend on you and your income during their lifetime. 
  • Name your executor and/or trustee – the individual(s) or institution you appoint to administer your estate and distribute your property after your death. 
  • Name guardians for minor children. 
  • Avoid probate, the court process for proving that a deceased person’s will is valid —I call this Probate Proofing and I advise clients every day how to do this both with my help and on their own. 
  • Name the family members, loved ones, and organizations you wish to receive your property following your death. 
  • Transfer property to your heirs and any organizations you’ve named in your estate planning documents in a tax-efficient and expedient manner, with as few legal hurdles as possible. 
  • Manage tax exposure. 

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Heidi S. Webb, Attorney at Law serves clients in Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach, Port Orange, Melbourne and beyond with matters of Elder Law, Estate Planning, and Probate Law.   Contact her today to schedule a free consultation. Visit her page on Facebook, or see what her clients are saying to learn more about Heidi.

 

Ask Heidi: What is the role of the Personal Representative in Florida?

Personal Representative

For starters, some of you may find it helpful to know that a Personal Representative in Florida is the same thing as an Executor in many other states —Florida Law just chose the term Personal Representative.  A lot of times when I say that folks are like “ohhhhhhhh” and the a-ha moment occurs but if you’ve never dealt with either term this blog will hopefully clear up the basics.

A Personal Representative is responsible for gathering the assets of the Estate, protecting the estate property, preparing an inventory of the property, paying various estate expenses, paying valid claims [including debts and taxes] against the Estate, representing the Estate in claims against others, and eventually distributing the estate property to the beneficiaries. In the event the decedent passed away with a Will, the Will may often impose additional duties on the Personal Representative that are not required by law.   In all cases, the first thing the Personal Representation should do is contact an attorney to see what needs to be done [as well as what may not need to be done].

Here is a quick list of the responsibilities the Personal Representative will need to handle with the assistance of an attorney representing the estate:

  • Opening the Estate
  • Identify Assets of the Estate
  • Opening of the Estate Account
  • Provide Notice to Creditors
  • Preparation of an Estate Inventory and record-keeping during the administration
  • Filing of Tax Returns
  • Distribution of Assets and Closing the Estate

When choosing the Personal Representative for your Estate, it is critical to fully explain what comes with this responsibility to make sure they are up for the task. It is recommended to discuss your Estate Plan with an Estate Planning attorney in the State in which you reside to ensure your plan is draft correctly.  If you live in the Daytona Beach or Melbourne, Florida area, call my office for a free consultation.

What happens in Florida if I die without an Estate Plan?

die without an estate plan

 

Quick answer, State law will dictate how your assets are distributed.   Assets that fall under the purview of the Probate Court without direct beneficiary designations will need to be probated and they will be distributed pursuant to the laws of intestacy.  This means that Florida law dictates who will inherit your probated assets without any other factual consideration and no concern for what your wishes may have been. This scenario can be particularly devastating when the people named under Florida law are not the people you want inheriting your estate.

Think of your Estate Plan as your instruction manual for the probate court —if you don’t have one, then Florida Statute becomes the instruction manual for your probate assets.

ASK HEIDI:  Do I need to select a Power of Attorney for financial matters and another for health care, or can the same person do both? 

Short Answer:  While it’s two different documents/roles it can be the same person wearing both hats.

The document for handling financial matters is called a Durable Power of Attorney and the Health Care Surrogate Designation is for healthcare decisions when you are unable but there’s an expectation of survival. 

I usually approach it from the perspective that they are very different roles and often different loved ones might be better suited for one rather than the other.  I tell my client’s that they shouldn’t feel it HAS to be the same person but it absolutely can be. 

Four Things that Cause Sibling Feuds Regarding Estate Planning

 

Caring for an ill parent or settling their estate once they have passed is an emotional time in a family and can start a feud or add to an already existing one if specific preventative measures are not taken. When parents divide their assets to their children, they don’t expect such fights to occur, but they do. Not all disagreements can be prevented, but with careful planning, following the advice of an Estate Planning Attorney, parents can try to avoid these issues.

Here are four things that commonly cause fights and advice on how to prevent them from happening.

  1. No Healthcare Directive and Power of Attorney

When a parent gets sick, it can be stressful, especially if they need to be hospitalized for an extended period. This can become more challenging if their situation becomes critical and they are unable to voice their healthcare or financial wishes. If a parent does not have a Healthcare Directive or Power of Attorney, their loved ones are forced to make the decisions for themselves. This can cause conflict between siblings if they are unable to agree on a resolution. In some circumstances, siblings have taken each other to court to fight for ‘their side’. This can cause a rift in their relationship, costly court fees, and lost time that instead should be spent by their parent’s side.

To avoid this conflict, parents should have their Healthcare Directive and Power of Attorney prepared:

  • A Healthcare Directive specifies your wishes for medical treatments and allows you to appoint someone to carry out your wishes if there is ever a time when you are no longer able to communicate or provide consent
  • A Power of Attorney allows you to appoint someone to look after your financial affairs, such as your property, while you are incapacitated
  1. No Will

If both parents pass away without a Will, a family can be thrown into chaos. This can cause fights between siblings if they want the same thing or can’t agree on how to equally divide the items.

Parents should create a Will and specify who gets what. They can identify items and give them as gifts to their children. Creating a Will not only ensures your loved ones are looked after, but it decreases the chance of siblings fighting over material possessions.

  1. Lack of Communication

In some cases, having a Will is not enough to stop feuds from occurring. A lot of times, parents don’t discuss their Will with their children (as it can be uncomfortable talking about money or their mortality). However, this lack of communication can cause more problems between siblings because it is too late to hear their parents’ reasoning.

Parents should communicate with their children about their Will so they are aware of the contents and can have an open discussion.

  1. Wrong Personal Representative/Executor

A Personal Representative/Executor will distribute the assets Personal Representative/Executor. Since the Personal Representative/Executor has the power to make decisions, it can create some tension between siblings. Arguments can arise because they may feel jealous that their sibling is the Personal Representative/Executor or that their sibling is abusing their power and not carrying out their responsibilities.

Often parents can select a third party as their Personal Representative/Executor. This can help alleviate tension between siblings as the Personal Representative/Executor is impartial and has no personal interest in the estate.

Every situation is different and sometimes feuds and disagreement cannot be avoided even with careful planning and the best intentions. As always, I recommend a lawyer in the state in which you reside prepare these papers, so there are no legal issues when the time comes for them to be implemented. If you live in the Daytona Beach, Florida area, call my office for a free consultation.

 

Estate Planning Pitfalls

Estate Planning Pitfalls Part 2

 

Last month I started what I consider one of my most important posts –a series regarding the

Estate Planning Pitfalls

There are numerous pitfalls of which you need to be aware regarding your Estate Plan.

most common pitfalls I see in Estate Planning.

Part two of my multi-part blog series discusses the pitfall of failing to keep a current/updated Will. This is probably one of the easiest pitfalls to avoid and the most common blunder I see by other people’s clients.  I tell my clients to come see me to review everything EVERY three years whether they think they need it or not —to encourage this practice I personally do not charge for these “check-ins” but even if your attorney charges you, go –it’s money well spent.   

Case Study:  Estate Planning Pitfall #2– Failing to Maintain an Updated Will

I was hired by a young man whose father had recently passed after a lengthy battle with illness, he had two half-siblings

There are numerous pitfalls of which you need to be aware regarding your Estate Plan.

out of state, the decedent had some property here, some property out of state, an ex-girlfriend living in his home.  All a recipe for a convoluted case at best case.  This will be compounded because although Father had resided in Florida for quite some time his antiquated Will was drafted in another state nearly a decade before his death.

To add insult to injury, because the Will was self-prepared on a form purchased at an office supply store it provided for very specific bequests to each of his 3 children and a close friend.  It did not provide for his residuary Estate —what could be called the “everything else” clause.  And a decade later all but one of the properties left to his beneficiaries was long gone and his “everything else” is everything and now left to chance.  The Will also provided for a Personal Representative who lived 2000 miles away and who likely will not want to be in charge of the circus that is about to commence with a bunch of heirs who don’t have a relationship and no clear instructions.

This case hasn’t ended yet but it’s going to be a long haul and could have been very easily avoided if he had just updated his Will prior to passing.

And so, even with a seemingly simple estate—say, you “just” own a bank account and a house—it’s crucial to keep an updated will or a living trust or otherwise Probate Proof yourself.   These scenarios can be avoided with the advice of an Estate Planning Attorney –so have your Estate Planning reviewed every three years or when life changes happen [beneficiaries pass away, children are born, divorce occurs, assets are sold, to name a few] and failing to do so can have unintended consequences.

Estate Planning Pitfalls

There are numerous pitfalls of which you need to be aware regarding your Estate Plan.

You’ve worked way too hard to leave your estate plan to chance. Stop procrastinating and protect your family and loved ones and your hard-earned legacy today. However, when doing so, there are numerous pitfalls of which you should be aware.

A simple Google search can reveal some harrowing examples of those pitfalls. This is part one of a multi-part series of what can happen when Estate Planning goes wrong:

Pitfall Possibility #1: Picking An Inappropriate Personal Representative

Are there any long-standing feuds in your family? Does your anticipated Personal Representative live near you? Who will handle your final affairs in an appropriate and fair manner?

These are all questions to spend some time thinking about when determining the best person or persons to act on your behalf after your death. Read on to review an example of what can happen if these things aren’t considered properly:

“When you’re dealing with families, things can get complicated—quick. We see so many cases come through with unresolved feuds between siblings. It’s one of the most common causes of litigation over an estate.

I handled one case where a client’s sister had been named the executor of their father’s estate, despite the fact that she lived in a different state than both her father and brother, whom she’d been fighting with for years.

Ideally, in a case like that, the parents would have named an objective, independent personal representative—like another family member or a trusted friend—as their estate’s executor, instead of one of the kids.

But that didn’t happen here.

After the father passed away, our client started to take care of a few things around the house, not realizing he didn’t have the legal right to do so. Once his sister arrived, there were accusations about items being removed—and a long legal battle ensued.

Ultimately, even though the estate was to be divided evenly, our client’s sister had all of the decision-making power to decide how that happened, so long as the monetary value was equal. There is no way to challenge her decisions in court, and we’re still waiting to see whether or not the siblings can put their feelings aside and divide the estate fairly.

To avoid contentious situations like this, we counsel clients to consider the complicated dynamics between the family members named in a will. If there’s even a possibility of an estate causing fights or damaging relationships, we encourage them to look for an independent personal representative who can settle things fairly.”

                                                    —Tom Gisriel, attorney at Pessin Katz Law, Baltimore, Md.

Mr. Gisriel finishes his story with some valuable advice: Consider complicated dynamics between family members and think about an independent Personal Representative if those dynamics will damage relationships –a neutral family friend? Your Attorney?

Follow the blog, so you do not miss the next chapters of Estate Planning Pitfalls.

Avoid these headaches by putting your Estate Plan in motion today by meeting with an Estate Planning Attorney where you reside.

Heidi S. Webb provides competent, experienced and trusted Estate Planning and Probate Estate Administration services to clients in the Daytona Beach, Florida area. Call today to schedule your free legal consultation.

Original Article with “case studies” located at https://www.learnvest.com/knowledge-center/estate-planning-mistakes