If you’ve listened to me long enough, you’ve heard Cramer’s theory of what happens in contested probate proceedings: “The bully always wins.” Well, now that might change. Recent amendments to both the Florida Probate Code and Trust Code, which apply to all proceedings filed on or after July 1, 2015, provide ammunition for family members to fight back against the bully.
Sometimes blessings occur when we least expect them, but a lack of planning for such blessings can have unpleasant results. In the recent case of Maher v. Iglikova, a Florida court dealt with the ramifications of an unexpected blessing: the discovery of a previously unknown child.
Hopefully our faithful readers all know by now that there are many hazards to do-it-yourself estate plans. What you may not know is that trying to administer your loved one’s estate without legal help is just as treacherous. It is a great honor to be named as a loved one’s personal representative (executor) or trustee, but these roles come with great responsibility and many legal duties.
So, it appears that we did not go off the first “Fiscal Cliff” and some momentary “permanence” has been given to the Estate Tax Law. In the just passed “American Taxpayer Relief of 2012,” Congress kept in place the 2010 estate tax law with its Five Million Dollar ($5,000,000.00) personal exemption, adjusted annually for inflation. The only thing the lawmakers actually changed is the gift and estate tax rate, which has gone up to a top rate of forty percent (40%) from a previous maximum of thirty-five percent (35%). The exemption amount in 2012 was 5.12 million dollars, per person. The 2013 exemption amount is reported to be 5.22 million dollars per person. This amount of money either can be given away during lifetime or after death; it also can be given or devised to grandchildren without occurring any additional generation skipping tax.
With the holiday season in full swing, you are likely thinking about and spending time with your loved ones, your “family.” Chances are, they are not all related to you by blood. Most of us have spouses, in-laws, stepchildren, stepparents, or even friends that we consider to be part of our family. Sometimes we are more tightly bonded with these people than with our actual blood relations.
In the 1999 movie “The Bachelor,” a young man (Chris O’Donnell) frantically proposes to his girlfriend (Renée Zellweger) and a succession of past girlfriends in the days before his 30th birthday. The reason for the man’s urgency is that his grandfather’s will states that he must be married on that date or he will miss out on a multi-million dollar inheritance. If you have seen the movie, you likely thought it was a far-fetched plot; however, it is legally feasible to condition gifts in a will or trust on the marital status, religious observance, or other behavior of the intended recipient.
An elderly couple recently learned the hard way that do-it-yourself disability planning can have serious unintended consequences. Like many people before them, the couple followed the advice of friends, their friendly neighborhood banker, or (our favorite) “Marge” at Burger King, and added their daughter’s name to their bank account. This was their way of ensuring that someone would be able to handle their finances if one or both of them became disabled.