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Miami Estate Planning Law Blog

Beneficiaries questioning administrative costs of estate

Estate administration can often become a contentious affair, even when Miami residents have done their due diligence in preparing wills prior to their deaths. Particularly in cases involving a high volume of assets, those who believe that they may have an interest in an estate may contest documents and ask that rulings be revisited at seemingly every turn, thus prolonging the administration process for years. Such long, drawn-out legal battles can take a heavy toll on an estate’s assets.

Administrative costs are exactly what has come under scrutiny in a legal battle in Pennsylvania involving an estate case that is entering its tenth year. At the center of it all is the estate of a prominent area attorney and his wife, a local dentist. The couple was killed in a plane crash in 2007. The beneficiaries (made up largely of the couples nieces and nephews) are calling the over $2 million charged to the estate during the five-year legal battle to determine the validity of the couple’s will exorbitant. They are asking that documents by turned over detailing the work done by the former law firm of the estate’s administrator. Through their attorney, they claim the 58 attorneys the firm involved in the case demonstrate an example of it “’milking’ the estate like a ‘fatted calf.’” Representatives from the firm dispute this assertion, saying the complexity of the case warranted such resources.

Detailing the court’s involvement in a trust administration

Unless you have experience in working with trust law, your understanding of the roles and responsibilities that come with the office of a trustee is likely limited. If you are asked to serve in such a role, there are resources out there to help advise you (including us here at The Law Offices of Frye and Vazquez, P.L.). You might also wonder what sort of guidance you might expect from the court. The answer may surprise you.

Unlike with the disposition of assets through a will, the courts tend to remain relatively uninvolved in trust administration proceedings. In fact, except in the review of costs such as trustee reimbursement or the formation of a testamentary trust, court involvement in trust proceedings typically only occurs in response to a complaint being filed by any of a trust's interested parties. Issues that may provoke judicial proceedings in relation to a trust (as shared by the Florida Trust Code) may include:

  •          Determining the validity of any part of a trust
  •          Appointing you (or another) to the role of trustee, or removing you from such a position
  •          Settling any of the trust's accounts
  •          Obtaining a declaration of rights
  •          Determining any matters involving you as a trustee or any of the trust's beneficiaries

Detailing the descent of homestead in Florida

Questions often arise amongst people in Miami regarding what happens when a person dies without ever having made a will. The answer is that his or her assets and property are transferred to others according to the state’s rules regulating intestate succession. The general details of Florida’s intestate succession guidelines have been shared in this blog in the past, however many may wonder how such regulations treat what is often one’s most valuable asset: his or her home.

According to the Florida Probate Code, the ownership of a home (specifically, one’s homestead) transfers in the same manner as other intestate property, with the exception being cases where one is survived by a spouse and one or more descendants. In that case, the spouse is given a life estate in the homestead, with the descendants being given a vested remainder per stirpes (in equal shares).

What are the qualifications to be a professional guardian?

The hope of many in Miami may be that if the day ever arises where they are no longer able to care for themselves, family members or friends will be able to step in and see to their needs. However, if you have a loved one who has reached that point, your circumstances may not allow you the time and resources needed to provide for him or her. If he or she is not able to afford a caregiver, then having him or her placed under the care of a professional guardian may need to be considered.

The prospect of entrusting a stranger with your loved one's well-being may be extremely difficult. Plus, the concern that such an individual may attempt to exploit your family member or friend is ever present. Understanding the exact qualifications required to be a professional guardian in Florida may help you in making the most informed decision possible in this situation.

NFL team asked to pay deceased player’s signing bonus

One vital function of those who have been asked to assist in the administration of an estate in Miami is resolving all claims both for and against a decedent. The outcome of such claims could potentially have a significant impact on the overall value of the estate. Thus, beneficiaries, creditors and other interested parties to an estate likely want to see such actions resolved given the impact that it may have on their own personal interests. This may be true despite however seemingly odd (or even distasteful) a claim may be.

Many may disapprove of the action currently going on between the National Football League Players Association and the New England Patriots following the suicide death of one the team’s former players. The man was recently found dead in his prison cell following his acquittal on murder charges. His death prompted an earlier murder conviction to be vacated due to the fact that the law in the state in which he was convicted mandates that cases be completed (including appeals). As he was in the process of an appeal at the time of his death, his case was no longer considered completed and thus must be vacated.

Determining your taxable estate

Many people often come to us here at The Law Offices of Frye and Vazquez, P.L. concerned that much of what they have to leave to their spouses, children, and/or grandchildren will be taken through estate taxes. If you share this same concern, you should know one thing: most estates in the U.S. will not be subject to an estate tax. That is because their total values do not exceed the estate tax threshold set by the federal government. Whether or not yours will depends on the value of your taxable estate.

The Internal Revenue Service has listed the process through which your taxable estate is determined on its website. This allows you to know beforehand whether or not you need even concern yourself with having to learn more about the estate tax. It all starts by determining your Gross Estate. This includes all of the following property:

  •          Cash and securities
  •          Real estate holdings
  •          Insurance policies
  •          Business interests
  •          Trust and annuity income

Outlining the process of revoking a will

Whenever you hear news of an estate dispute in Miami, oftentimes the central issue in such cases is the validity of one will over another. We here at The Law Offices of Frye and Vazquez, P.L. can attest to the fact that such disputes can often be avoided by you being as transparent as possible during the estate planning process. Say that you have followed the advice of estate planning experts and created a will early on in your adult life. Changes in your relationship status, career, or even your political and social leanings may prompt you to create a new one later on. How can you ensure that your beneficiaries understand that your subsequent will reflects your true wishes?

According to the Florida Probate Code, a subsequent will that expressly revokes all of the terms of an initial one is sufficient to prove revocation. So too is a subsequent will that does not expressly revoke the earlier will, but whose language is inconsistent with the earlier will’s terms. However, the extent to which the second will revokes the terms of the first in such a case is limited to those areas where there are inconsistencies.

How does summary administration work?

You may hear from several people in Miami that one of the main reasons why you should not put off your estate planning is to avoid probate. Probate avoidance strategies have been detailed in previous posts on this blog, yet one question you may want to first ask is whether or not an estate that you are party to even needs to be probated. If you have been named as the executor of an estate, you will especially want to know this before becoming consumed with worry about having to go through probate.

If the value of your loved one’s estate is less than $75,000, or he or she has been deceased for more than two years, then his or her estate may be eligible to be dispersed through summary administration. According to the Florida Probate Code, you can initiate this process yourself as the personal representative of an estate, or if you are a beneficiary to it. First, however, you must make a diligent effort to contact all of your loved one’s creditors and ensure that their claims are settled using the estate’s assets.

Religious differences set parents and guardian at odds

Many in Miami likely dread the prospect of not being able to make decisions for themselves. If and when they find themselves (or someone that they love) in such a circumstance, they may hope that another family member or friend will be given the right to make important decisions for them. Such choices can involve financial, medical, personal and even spiritual matters. Knowing this, it may be easy to see why one would only want someone that he or she trusts placed in the role of his or her decision maker. However, in some cases, the court may find it best to appoint guardian outside of one’s circle of family and friends.

Oftentimes, the views and opinions of a court-appointed guardian may clash with those of his or her ward (or the ward’s family). Such appears to be the case in a lawsuit recently filed by a family in Ohio. They claim that the court-appointed guardian of their 11-year-old son repeatedly tried to force her religious beliefs on them. She eventually lined the boy up with a mentor from her church congregation. According to the lawsuit, despite the mentor agreeing not to proselytize to the boy, he did so anyway away from the parents. The parents’ frustrations boiled over after the boy was forced to be baptized during a religious activity. He claims that his mentor threatened not to continue to take him to activities if he did not comply.

Do I need a generation-skipping trust?

Even if you are one of the many Florida residents who already has a pretty firm estate plan in place, you may find now a good time to review that plan. As life changes, so too might your estate plan. One of the tools you might want to consider is a generation-skipping trust.

As The Motley Fool explains, a generation-skipping trust may commonly be used by people with high-asset value estates. As its name implies, a GST helps you leave assets for grandchildren or subsequent generations. There are sometimes unique situations when grandchildren may not be considered a skipped generation such as if their parents have already died and the grandchildren would then be considered the first in line as heirs.

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