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RELATIONSHIP SERIES – PART 3

Friday, April 18th, 2014 by

Our Relationships Series previously has covered the unique estate planning challenges faced by blended families and by same-sex and other unmarried couples.  Today we will address another group that is in dire need of proper planning: families with children under the age of 18.

In Florida, as in other states, the law recognizes children as vulnerable members of society and therefore limits their legal rights and responsibilities until they reach the age of “majority,” or adulthood, on their 18th birthday.  For example, a child who is not yet 18, called a “minor” in legalese, cannot own property or sign contracts.  Instead, he must rely on his parent(s) to make decisions regarding his person (i.e. where he will live and go to school, what medical treatment he will receive) and his property (i.e. what to do with any assets he may receive).

As parents, we exercise these rights as a matter of course while raising our children.  We are able to do so without any legal process or reporting because we are the “natural guardians” of our minor kids.  But what would happen to your minor child if you were no longer alive or otherwise unable to take care of him?

When there is no natural guardian available, a court must authorize someone (a “guardian”) to step into your shoes and make decisions about your child’s person and property until he turns 18.  If you do not plan properly, the court will decide who the guardian will be based on who steps forward, and who the law prefers, rather than your wishes.

Even if you do have a plan that expresses who you want to be guardian(s) of your minor child, it may not fully protect him.  In the short term, your sudden unavailability, even if temporary (i.e. unconscious after a car accident), may lead to your child being taken into foster care.  In the long term, your plan may result in your child getting complete freedom and a big check at the age of 18 rather than receiving continued guidance.

If you would like to learn more about planning to protect your family, you are welcome to attend one of our monthly Truth About Estate Planning workshops.  The October 7th workshop will be specifically tailored for families with minor children.

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THE LATEST DO-IT-YOURSELF NIGHTMARE

Friday, April 4th, 2014 by

We are constantly warning clients and friends alike of the dangers of do-it-yourself estate planning.  The odds are just too high that a fill-in-the-blanks estate plan will fail.  We hate to say we told you so, but here it is straight from the pen of Justice Pariente of the Florida Supreme Court:

“I therefore take this opportunity to highlight a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance.  As this case illustrates, that decision can ultimately result in the frustration of the testator’s intent, in addition to the payment of extensive attorney’s fees — the precise results the testator sought to avoid in the first place.”

 

The case that Justice Pariente is referring to is Aldrich v. Basile, where the Court recently was asked to interpret a do-it-yourself will.  Ann Aldrich wrote her will on an “E-Z Legal Form.”  Ann’s big mistake was that her will gave away specific assets (i.e. my gold watch to my sister) but it did not contain a residuary clause.  A residuary clause basically says “here is what to do with any asset I did not specifically mention.”

Ann’s will may have given away all of her assets at the time she made it, but she later inherited more assets from her sister.  She did not update her will to include the new assets, but instead expressed her intent in a separate handwritten note that “all” of her worldly possessions should go to her brother.  Unfortunately for Ann and her brother, this note was not a valid way for Ann to update her will or direct what to do with the assets not specifically given away.  Further, the will itself, without a residuary clause, was not sufficient to “effectively dispose of” any assets not specified.

The end result was that Ann’s heirs under Florida’s intestacy statute (the State’s default will) shared in the property that Ann wanted to go solely to her brother.  Even though it seemed clear what Ann really wanted, she didn’t express it in a legally enforceable way, so the Court had to follow the terms of the will.  As the Court explained, the will was not ambiguous (which would have allowed them to consider Ann’s intent) – it was just missing some critical words!

The internet may provide data, information, and knowledge. But it does not, and cannot, provide legal advice.  Please don’t do estate planning without first obtaining creative, wise, and experienced legal advice.  The parties in the Aldrich case were fighting over an $87,000.00 bank account.  The legal fees most certainly wiped out the bulk of that inheritance.  Don’t let that happen to you or your loved ones.

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RELATIONSHIP SERIES – PART 2

Monday, March 24th, 2014 by

Scenario No.1 – Single Mom with Kids Marries Single Dad with Kids

 

Although this type of “stepfamily” is becoming more and more common, it comes with significant hurdles to overcome.  If you are part of a blended family like this, you are probably well aware of the psychological obstacles.  The marriage will bring changes: most likely a new home and new routines and maybe even a new job or school, new town, or new roommate.  All of this change puts stress on both the couple and their children, who may feel a sense of loss over having to share their biological parent not only with the new spouse but also with their new “step” siblings.

However, many blended families don’t know that they face unique estate planning obstacles as well.  The most likely estate plan for a married couple is matching wills which say: “I leave everything to my spouse and thereafter equally to my children.”  We generally call these “I love you” wills, but, as we have written before, they can send the opposite message to children in blended families.

What many people don’t understand is that a will is only effective to transfer assets once.  For example, we’ll look at a fictitious blended family, Bill and Mary Sample, who have the estate plan described above.  When Bill dies before Mary, all of his property legally passes to Mary and the “thereafter” clause in his will is null and void.  Not only do Bill’s kids not get anything at the time he passes away, Mary is then free to leave all of her property, including everything she inherited from Bill, to her children (or her next spouse, etc.).  Imagine how Bill’s children will feel when someone else inherits their father’s home and prized possessions!  Unfortunately, this happens all too often.

In order to ensure that each member of your family receives what you want them to have, and to prevent fighting, name-calling, and litigation among your children and the “evil” stepparent or stepsiblings, a revocable living trust should be considered.  By leaving assets in trust, you can provide for both your spouse and your children and even explain why and how you want to take care of each.  A clear expression of your wishes can go a long way toward preventing WWIII!

If you would like to learn more about revocable living trust planning, you are welcome to attend one of our monthly Truth About Estate Planning workshops.

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MORE ESTATE PLANNING LESSONS FROM DOWNTON ABBEY

Friday, February 7th, 2014 by

          My wife is a big fan of Downton Abbey, so at least once each season we are obligated to reference this hit PBS series in our newsletter.  We have already written about general estate planning issues raised in the early seasons of the show.  Fortunately, the opening episode of Season 4 provided a wealth of interesting new material.

          Season 3 ended with Matthew Crawley tragically killed in a car accident.  The 36-year-old heir to the Abbey left a wife, Lady Mary, and baby boy behind.  Season 4 opened with the family still grieving and thinking that Matthew died without a will.  England’s intestacy laws at the time recognized only male heirs, so the baby was believed to now be the 50% owner of Downton Abbey.  The family was seen arguing over who could best represent the baby’s interests.  Then Lord Grantham discovers a letter hidden in one of Matthew’s books that turns out to be a hand written will, leaving his entire estate to Lady Mary.  A legal opinion confirms that the will is valid.

          Lessons learned?

1.       As we’ve written before no one is “too young” to create a thoughtful estate plan.  Matthew was only 36, but had a wife and baby, and was heir to a large estate.  He needed a comprehensive plan.

2.       Don’t rely on chance.  Leaving your will hidden in a book is not a good idea.  Make sure that the location of your estate plan documents is known to your trusted family members and helpers.  Also, don’t rely on a last-minute handwritten will to be valid.  Unlike early 20th Century England, Matthew’s will would not have been valid in 21st Century Florida.  Without 2 disinterested witnesses and a notary, Matthew’s letter would have no legal effect.  Knowing his intentions, but not having them carried out would be all the more frustrating.

          As you watch Downton Abbey, enjoy the fading grandeur of the British aristocracy and the secrets and machinations of the characters who live both upstairs and downstairs.  But do learn from the characters’ mistakes, especially when it comes to estate planning.  To learn more about modern day estate planning, attend our next “Truth About Estate Planning” workshop. 

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ESTATE PLANNING LESSONS FROM THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

Friday, January 10th, 2014 by

 

When Stieg Larsson died suddenly in 2004, he was well-known in Sweden as an investigative journalist, political activist, and expert on right-wing extremism.  His partner of more than thirty years, Eva Gabrielsson, whom he did not marry due to security concerns, was the natural, and presumably intended, beneficiary of his estate.  However, Stieg failed to make a valid will expressing this intent and his assets therefore passed by operation of Swedish law to his father and brother, from whom he was nearly estranged.

This estate planning foible would not have been noticed outside of a small political circle in Sweden had it not been for the publication after Stieg’s death of three crime novels, which became the internationally known and bestselling “Millennium Trilogy,” beginning with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  Eva, who encouraged Stieg to write, and collaborated with him on, the novels, was denied any share of the profits and, what she claims is worse, any input on their publication and movie rights.  Instead, Stieg’s father and brother have received the copyright to his literary works and a huge monetary windfall in addition to the meager estate that existed at Stieg’s death.

          Stieg Larsson is just the latest in a long line of artists who became worth far more in death than they were in life.  His story illustrates the importance of planning now to protect your loved ones, even if your present circumstances do not appear to warrant it.  Although we are not all future bestselling authors, there is often a much greater value than we realize in both our life’s work and planning to ensure that our loved ones receive it.

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CHEERS TO A NEW YEAR!

Friday, January 3rd, 2014 by

 

Thank you to our wonderful clients and planning partners for making 2013 another year of growth for Cramer Law Center!

At our annual firm retreat earlier this week, the whole team worked together to evaluate our performance in 2013 and identify areas for improvement in 2014.  As a result, we are ready to make 2014 our most successful year yet.

Happy New Year!  We wish you health, wealth, and happiness and hope to see you in 2014!

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013 by

 

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Cramer Law Center!

Looking back over the past year, we have found many things for which we are thankful; here are just a few:

1.       The addition to our team of our administrator extraordinaire, Deborah Cosio;

2.       A successful move to a new, larger office space that better suits the needs of our growing business;

3.       Record attendance at our monthly Truth About Estate Planning Workshops;

4.       The many wonderful new clients who chose to join the Cramer Law Center “family;”

5.       And, as always, our current clients and planning partners who continue to believe in our process and support our growth.

We hope that you have had a wonderful year as well and that you are able to enjoy the holiday with your loved ones!

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STAR TREK AND ESTATE PLANNING: Live Long and Prosper Part I

Friday, August 30th, 2013 by

 

Life: the Final frontier.  These are the voyages of the estate planning process….

As we know life is a voyage, not unlike space or any other voyage into the unknown.  Star Trek is one of those great TV classics that almost everyone has seen at some point.  The mission of this newsletter is to make a serious point about your life voyage and highlight ways to make it less stressful, for you and your family, without going into warp drive!  Cramer Law Center’s mission is to help you navigate the possible bumps.

We have a process to help you plan that is light years ahead of traditional estate planning.  It begins with a 3-step approach that considers the now, the future and beyond, taking all factors into consideration.

What does all this have to do with Star Trek?  Well, it so happens that actor Leonard Nimoy will turn 83 years old next year.  He will probably be remembered by most of us as Spock, the highly logical Vulcan in Star Trek.  His catch phrase was “Live Long and Prosper.”

With appropriate planning, that slogan can reflect our new longer lives!

Live Long and Prosper, but, you have to plan for it…………………

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Downton Abbey Every Manor House has Its Issues!

Friday, July 19th, 2013 by

Exclamation PointWarning: This newsletter was not penned byExclamation Point

Jeffrey A. Cramer.

Viewer discretion is advised.

While watching Downton Abbey, with all the splendor and pageantry of the upper-class British aristocracy included, it occurred to me how fortunate we are today to be able to control what happens to our estate when we pass away.

Lord and Lady Grantham of Downton Abbey have three daughters that cannot inherit the estate.  Lady Mary, the eldest daughter, must marry a male Crawley in order to keep the Abbey in her family.  As you can imagine, this creates excessive amounts of discord and mayhem for everyone, especially as Maggie Smith, who plays the imposing Dowager Countess of Grantham, tries to orchestrate the affections of the girls into the arms of Matthew, heir to Downton Abbey.  Even with all of the Dowager’s scheming, Mary falls in love with Matthew and he with her.  This allows the family to remain in the ancestral home.

Fortunately, we no longer have to live with the absurdity of antiquated inheritance law.  However, this does not mean that the future of your estate should be left to chance (unless you are lucky enough to live with Maggie Smith!). Many families wait too long to make an estate plan with dire consequences resulting.  For example, in blended families where one parent has remarried and the new spouse does not get along with the children, inheritance complications and family drama can ensue, which can tear a family apart – if the family does not create a plan to suit their unique needs!  Such a situation is, unfortunately, not all that uncommon.

Don’t despair!  Whether you live in Downton Abbey or a little home in Jacksonville, Florida, we can help!  Cramer Law Center will help you formulate a plan that will work for you and your family.

Downton Abbey

 

Pip, pip!  Cheerio!

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LLC Owners, Be Aware and Be Prepared! Part 2

Friday, June 28th, 2013 by

As we discussed in our last newsletter, on May 3, 2013, the Florida legislature passed the new Florida Revised Limited Liability Company (“LLC”) Act.  This new LLC act will apply to all Florida LLCs by January 1, 2015.  In our last newsletter, we explained some of the important changes LLC owners will face under the new LLC act.  This newsletter will address some aspects of Florida LLC law which have not changed and therefore will continue to have a substantial effect on your business.

One unchanged provision of Florida LLC law that every current or potential LLC owner should be aware of involves creditor protection.  If you are the owner of a single-member LLC (you are the sole owner and the only person listed on the LLC documents), did you know that your personal creditors might be able to take your LLC’s assets?  Were you aware that the same LLC assets should be protected from the same creditors if your LLC had more than one member?

If you owe someone money for personal reasons (i.e. for your mortgage) rather than for business reasons (i.e. for rental of office space), Florida LLC law may block that creditor from reaching money, property, and other assets belonging to your LLC.  The amount of protection offered under these circumstances depends on whether your LLC has one member or more than one member.  As is mentioned above, the personal creditor of the owner of a single-member LLC may be able to collect what is owed him from the LLC’s assets.  However, when the personal creditor of one member of a multi-member LLC comes calling, Florida law says that he cannot directly reach the assets of the LLC.  The creditor instead will be limited to obtaining a “charging order” directing the LLC’s manager to pay him any income or profits that would otherwise be distributed to the member that owes him money.  This provides significant protection for the multi-member LLC because the creditor generally will not be able to force the manager to make distributions.

Another notable provision of Florida LLC law that remains on the books is Section 608.4225 of the Florida Statutes.  This provision places anyone who manages an LLC under a duty of care and a duty of loyalty to the LLC.  These are serious standards of conduct which, if violated, can result in personal liability for the manager or managing member.

If you are a business owner, hopefully you now understand the importance of staying abreast of Florida law as it relates to your business.   We would welcome the opportunity to talk to you about keeping your LLC current.

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