Levins & Associates, L.L.C.

Schedule a Free Consultation

Fort Myers 239-344-9471

Toll Free 888-312-0536

Fort Myers Probate & Estate Planning Law Blog

Do you need a pet trust?

Your pet is an important part of your family and deserves to be cared for long after you pass away. Fortunately, the law recognizes this important relationship. While there are a number of ways one might provide for a pet through an estate plan, creating a pet trust provides some of the best protections and flexibility available to pet owners.

A will can only do so much to guarantee your pet's ongoing care. However, a pet trust can place a legal duty on the person who receives your pet, compelling that person to not only care for the pet but also to follow your specified preferences in that care.

Conditional gifts may invalidate your will

When you create your will, you must take care to only include provisions that will stand up to scrutiny in court. Many people erroneously believe that once they write something in their will, it is something that their survivors must abide by. In reality, illegal provisions are included in wills regularly, making executing these wills difficult, if not impossible.

This is common when it comes to conditional gifts. While it is possible to place conditions on gifts, not all conditions are treated equally. For instance, if you chose to give your granddaughter a car, but only on the condition that she get divorced from that girl you don't like, the court would not uphold this condition. Conditions that concern altering the beneficiary's religion or marriage are not legal.

Caring for a special needs loved one after you are gone

There are many considerations that a Florida family must take for a loved one with special needs. From education to medical care, there are multiple factors that go into the continued care and well-being of people who cannot care for themselves. If you support and provide for an individual with disabilities or special needs, you would be wise to include his or her care as part of your estate plan.

One of the ways that a person can do this is to draft a special needs trust. Not only will this ensure that your loved one will have the financial resources necessary to continue with needed care, it will provide you with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that this sensitive issue is cared for.

Properly using blind trusts

As you create and manage your estate plan, you may find that it is necessary to create legal boundaries between you and your assets. This is particularly common if you are in a position of influence where the choices you make for a business or as a part of a governing body could constitute giving yourself unfair advantages. This type of trust momentarily gained nationwide exposure after then President-Elect Donald Trump declared that he was breaking with tradition and not placing his many business holdings in a blind trust. Many other presidents and lawmakers have chosen to use blind trusts to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest as they shape the laws that govern the country.

A blind trust essentially helps shield an individual's assets from unfair advantage, but still allow the beneficiary to receive benefits of those assets. To accomplish this, the trust must be managed by a trustee who is independent of the beneficiary, and has the ability to manage the assets without any influence or interference.

Do you have all your end-of-life documents ready?

When it comes to making your end-of-life wishes known, it is important to understand the differences between creating an advanced medical directive and appointing a health care representative. Far too many people do not fully execute one or the other of these two aspects of end-of-life planning, greatly weakening their loved one's power to follow their wishes. Still others seem to think that advanced medical directives and health care representative appointments are the same thing. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding often causes serious problems.

When you create your advanced medical directive, you establish your preferences for how you wish your life to end or be prolonged in the event that you cannot clearly communicate. Some people have very specific needs or preferences, and it is not enough to verbally convey them to a loved one. Furthermore, in the intensity of a life or death moment, your loved ones may not agree on how to act on your behalf.

How can an attorney help an estate executor?

As the executor of an estate, you may face many difficult decisions, especially when the estate you represent is particularly complex. In a best-case-scenario, serving as an executor is something that you can do with pride and know that you're serving the needs of the estate you represent. However, if matters become complicated, as they often do, you may benefit from experienced legal guidance.

In general, serving as an executor is something that just about anyone can do. The forms you must file with a court, for example, are relatively simple to understand and complete properly. Unfortunately, when it comes to distributing assets and liabilities according to an estate plan, those who receive distributions (or who specifically do not receive distributions) may cause trouble for you or, in some cases, threaten you. Dividing up an estate has a funny way of bringing out the worst in people sometimes.

The unified credit system in estate planning

The guidelines surrounding giving away assets without incurring taxes are regularly misunderstood or simply not accounted for when creating an estate plan. Unfortunately, this error often leads to hefty unnecessary taxation when the owner of an estate passes away.

Under the unified credit system, an individual is allowed to give away up to $675,000 worth of assets within his or her lifetime without incurring federal estate taxes or gift taxes. This is in addition to the annual gift exemption, which fluctuates near $10,000 per year. Unfortunately, the unified credit system often does not get accounted for in estate planning, resulting in mixed opportunities to save and protect assets.

Family trusts require special care to avoid family conflicts

Family trusts are great tools for making sure that assets can be fairly shared and enjoyed by various members of a family, which is a wonderful thing as long as it all goes smoothly. Unfortunately, while the legal concepts that support family trusts are sound, all such trusts inevitably involve several fallible human beings, which can always complicate matters. If you are considering using a family trust, make sure you understand how many conflicts can arise.

The most common issue presented by family trusts are the very reason for using them in the first place — family. Even with the best of intentions, human beings have an impressive and infuriating ability to complicate anything where money or property of value are concerned. One way to mitigate these risks as the creator of a family trust is create failsafes to ensure that you can resolve conflicts even if some people can't seem to agree.

Drafting a prenuptial agreement that stands up to scrutiny

When a Florida couple is planning a wedding, it can be difficult to think about anything beyond the wedding day itself. The excitement over wedding plans and starting life together can sometimes prevent a couple from thinking about the future and protecting long-term financial interests.

One of the most common ways for a couple to protect their individual interests before they even tie the knot is to draft a prenuptial agreement. This is not planning on the marriage to fail, but is simply a way to have security for the future. If you decide that this is the right option for you, make sure your prenuptial agreement is strong enough to withstand any scrutiny or disputes in the future.

How do I resign as a trust's trustee?

If you serve as a trustee to a trust, there are many reasons why you may wish to resign from your duties at some point. While this is certainly possible, it is similar to a minor divorce in some ways — legally allowed, but only by following certain state-specific procedures. For trustees in Florida, the process is relatively simple, but not always easy.

A trustee who wishes to resign his or her position in Florida must either give 30 days of notice to all the relevant parties to the trust, such as beneficiaries and co-trustees, or else obtain the written permission of the court to resign. At this point, the court may then issue additional orders to various parties to ensure that the property in the estate remains properly protected.