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Fort Myers Probate & Estate Planning Law Blog

New bill seeks to amend guardianship rules

Guardianship can be both big business and big trouble in Florida, and a new bill heading to the governor's desk aims to help some of the state's most vulnerable residents. However, the issues at hand are far from simple, and the bill has both supporters and detractors. Critics of the bill worry that the new bill may allow vulnerable wards to suffer if the individuals given responsibility to care for them are given less oversight, while it's supporters say that the new changes keep the incapacitated person from footing the bill for unnecessary legal costs.

Under the current system, guardianship entails a board of three members who must investigate the state of the ward and issue a determination as to whether the individual requires guardianship. Now, a recent case established that reports that are not personally delivered to the court by all three board members may be considered hearsay.

Have you updated your will since moving to Florida?

Florida is famously a place where many individuals and couples relocate in their golden years to enjoy warm, inviting weather and plenty of sunshine. However, many aging individuals neglect to keep their loved ones safe by failing to take simple preventative measures when they relocate. If you have recently moved to Florida, or intend to do so soon, make sure that you have properly updated your will.

When you do not keep your will up to date, it becomes much weaker to protect your loved ones and make your end-of-life wishes known. Florida maintains laws that may conflict with other states when it comes to several kinds of end-of-life decisions or passing property on to beneficiaries. If you come from a state with more relaxed probate laws than Florida, your family could be in for a harsh surprise when it comes time to read your will.

Florida considers electronic wills

Florida faces an interesting crossroads as two separate bills that may deeply impact estate planning protocols go before legislators. Under the new bills, Florida would recognize electronic wills in estate planning.

Before you go tearing up your physical will, it is important to note that the new law sets several requirements for an electronic will to be recognized as valid. Firstly, an electronic will must still be signed (electronically) by the testator while in the presence of two witnesses, and the witnesses must also sign the document (electronically) in the presence of the testator.

A prenuptial agreement can be part of your estate plan

As you prepare to get married, you will be making plans for everything from wedding cake flavors to honeymoon locations. In addition to these plans, you will find it beneficial to also consider any necessary adjustments to your estate plan. If you do not have a will or other important documents already drafted, an impending marriage is a good occasion to put your financial and estate-related affairs in order.

As part of the estate-planning process, you will find it useful to consider the benefits of a prenuptial agreement. This document does not mean you are planning for your marriage to eventually end in divorce, but rather, allows you to control what happens in case of a contingency. Like a will or trust, it can eliminate unnecessary complications in case the unexpected happens.

How can I increase my non-taxable gifts each year?

One of the most frustrating things about trying to spread around your good fortune to the ones you love is the relatively low ceiling on non-taxable giving. If you've been a little too generous before, you know just how infuriating this can be. You just want to give something good to someone you love, and end up giving them a bit of a double edged sword — a generous gift with a tax burden waiting on the other end. Fortunately, with little bit of planning, you significantly expand your ability to give without creating a ta dilemma.

One of the simplest ways to increase your gift ceiling is available to married couples. Under federal law, you and your spouse can both give separate monetary gifts to the same person and combine your gift total each year. For instance, if your gift exemption is $14,000 dollars per person per year, then you and your spouse may give your friend or family member a total of $28,000 each year without triggering a tax burden.

What happens to my mortgage if I die?

After a person passes away, there are many things that must be handled with great care to avoid unnecessary disruption to the lives of those who survive the decedent. Administering an estate can be a complex matter, especially even if the decedent had created an estate plan prior to his or her death. For those affected by the estate settlement, a generous gift can become a burden if the details are not clearly understood as the estate is administered. This can be especially true when it comes to passing on a home with an outstanding mortgage balance.

Each year, thousands of individuals pass away before they finish paying of their mortgage. For those who survive them, it is crucial to understand how a mortgage is treated after a death. Otherwise, a beneficiary may assume that someone else is responsible for paying a mortgage, and create a heap of trouble for themselves.

Should you have more than one health care agent?

The threat of serious illness or injury looms over everyone. Even if you adhere to a relatively healthy lifestyle, you could still find yourself in a situation that results in your incapacitation. Whether the issue stems from a degenerative mental disorder, physical illness or serious injuries due to an accident, you could end up in a predicament where you cannot adequately make necessary health-related decisions for yourself.

Luckily, you can create a power of attorney document that names a health care agent. This agent acts on your behalf when it comes to making decisions about treatments, locations for care, whether certain procedures should take place and numerous other decisions that could affect your care. Therefore, you should trust your appointed agent implicitly and know that he or she will act responsibly.

Do young people need an estate plan?

Many young people believe that they simply do not need to make an estate plan, or that estate planning is for older people. The truth of the matter is that estate planning can be helpful for anyone who wishes to dictate how their assets are distributed after their death, or simply create a plan for you can make end-of-life decisions if the unthinkable happens. While many young do not often think that they may die before reaching old age, nearly everyone knows one or two individuals who passed away before their time.

Creating an estate plan while you are still relatively young is a good way to keep you affairs simple and make sure that someone can act on your behalf if you die or are incapacitated. Let's assume you take a trip during spring break down to the beach and something goes horribly wrong. Maybe you're stuck by a car, or the party gets out of control and you end up in a vegetative state in a hospital. Without creating a will that dictates your end-of-life wishes and someone who can make those choices on you behalf, your loved one's may not know what you wan them to do if you are incommunicative.

What are the tax benefits of a charitable trust?

Many people find, as they accumulate a significant estate, that they become more and more interested in exploring their options for including charitable giving in their estate plan. One of the most versatile and useful forms of charitable giving in estate planning is funding a charitable trust with some of your assets. While the specifics will vary according to your circumstances and desires for the trust, charitable trusts are not only a great way to leave your impact on a cause you care for, they also provide some excellent tax advantages.

Upon the creation and funding of a charitable trust, the creator of the trust may claim a significant tax deduction, which can be doled out over five years. While you are not allowed to deduct the entire amount that you used to fund the trust, you are allowed to deduct the initial funding amount minus the projected earned interest. If, for example, you fund the trust with $50,000, and anticipate earning $20,000 on that investment before you pass away, then you may deduct $30,000 over the five years after you create and fund the trust. Furthermore, assets placed in a charitable trust are not subject to estate tax.

Do I need a will if I don't own much?

Often, those who are young or do not have many material possessions fall prey to the incorrect assumption that they do no t need a will. However, this is a faulty approach to will-creation. Not only does a will govern how your estate will be distributed (however modest it may be), it also can declare your wishes for a number of very personal decisions.

If you have a child, who will care for him or her if you and the child's other parent both pass away or are incapacitated? With a proper will, you can establish your child's future caretaker in the event of a tragedy that claims both the child's parents. Similarly, you can use a will to establish your end-of-life wishes. Have you decided that you would prefer to have your body cremated and your ashes scattered on beach you like to visit? Well, that may never happen if you don't specify it in a will.