Don't keep your Will in a Safe Deposit Box! Never! Please! This may seem like a good idea to keep the Will safe, but let me assure you, it is not. In an estate where the family was never informed of the Will’s location, we recently had to get into one to retrieve the ORIGINAL Will, which the state of Florida requires be filed. A copy of the Will is not sufficient. We did not have a key, so we had to get the court to order our entrance and then drill, yes DRILL, into it to get it opened. This caused several weeks of delay and thousands of dollars of additional costs to the family because of this blunder. Go to the bank now and remove yours... and more importantly, tell the person you’ve appointed to be your Personal Representative exactly where you are keeping it!
The short answer is no. A surviving spouse is entitled to a portion of a deceased spouse’s estate even if the deceased has a valid will or trust leaving nothing to the spouse (Florida Statute 732.201). A surviving spouse is entitled to what is known as an “elective share” of the deceased’s estate. A surviving spouse may choose to inherit the “elective share” of the estate. The “elective share” is equal to 30% of the “elective estate.”
Too often we encounter skeptics who ask why they would need to have their estate plan reviewed annually, as we do in our LifeLegacy Program. “What could possibly change?” they ask. “Lots,” we answer. Here is just one example of something that has come up that has unintended consequences that are detrimental to most living trust plans.
The Florida legislature thankfully has made it more difficult for a spouse to “accidentally” waive their homestead rights through vaguely worded or boilerplate deeds. Typically, constitutionally protected homestead rights only are waived in antenuptial agreements. However, those rights technically could be waived in any valid written contract, including a deed. Because prior cases had held that signing a deed with broader language than you knew could constitute a waiver, new statute F.S. 732.7025 now requires the following language to appear in a deed if it is to constitute a waiver of homestead: “By executing or joining this deed, I intend to waive homestead rights that would otherwise prevent my spouse from devising the homestead property described in this deed to someone other than me.” This is a welcome change.
If this isn’t a fundamental human right, I propose to make it one – the right to muddle through. This has been bothering me. America is supposed to be the land of the free, but that freedom becomes precarious when you reach “old age”. Florida’s Guardianship Law permits a Circuit Court Judge to strip you of all of your civil and personal rights. I’ve seen it happen in a 5 minute hearing. 5 minutes! That is all it takes to become a “ward of the state.” Unfortunately, unless we can start a massive human rights campaign right now, “the right to muddle through” is being lost here in Florida.
Most people I know are fiercely independent. It seems that the desire to be independent is hard wired into the American experience. Most of our clients express in their estate planning documents this desire to be and to remain independent for as long as possible. Many wish never to leave their homes for some type of institutional living and are willing to devote their life savings to remain “independent”. But what we are seeing as a result is that people are either totally independent or totally dependent. There rarely is an in-between. I strongly believe that if more people would include in their planning a recognition that there can be a transitional period--a period of interdependence-- which can meaningfully delay the onset of total dependence—more people would be able to age in place and be able to stay in their homes for a longer period of time.
I recently learned about a Facebook Group called “Elder Orphans” which is a support group for those aging alone. It is a group restricted to those over age 55 who live without the help of a spouse, partner or children. It has attracted over 8,000 members who use the site to discuss common issues and concerns.