Change is underway at Cramer Law Center. First, we are moving in 2 weeks to new offices at 4655 Salisbury Road, Suite 100A. (The move will take place the week of June 25). If you enter from Salisbury, we will be in the third of 3 buildings in the “Quadrant at Southpoint” office complex. You also can enter from Belfort Road. If you turn in at the entrance to the Borland-Groover Clinic and keep going past the clinic, we will be the first of the Quadrant buildings. I believe the official designation is “Quadrant II.” This location near I-95 and JTB is more centrally located than our present offices. Although traffic during rush hour is bad everywhere in Jacksonville, at least there is more than one way in and out of the new offices—as contrasted to our present location. We will have a map up on our website as soon as we relocate.
Following up on other potentially problematic legislation which has not been codified into law, we have the Florida Electronic Wills Act. The bad news is this potentially disastrous law actually passed both houses of the Florida Legislature. The good news is Governor Scott vetoed the bill and gave very thoughtful reasons for doing so.
Sometimes the best decision by a legislature is not to pass a bill. Among the bills that did not pass the Florida Legislature in 2017 was Senate Bill 228, which would have made POLST a law in Florida. It died in the Senate Judiciary Committee. About twenty states have enacted POLST legislation.
In our last newsletter, we discussed the latest statutory assault on the homestead citadel Assault on the Homestead Citadel. In this newsletter, we will discuss a recent case law assault on Florida’s broad homestead protections.
Effective July 1, 2017, the Florida Legislature has amended Florida Statute 732.2035 dealing with property entering into the “elective estate.” The Legislature has added into the list of assets that make up the elective estate for the first time, the decedent’s interest in property which constitutes the protected homestead of the decedent. The law establishing an elective estate or “elective share,” as it is known, is designed to protect surviving spouses from being completely disinherited. The law provides that a surviving spouse must receive at least 30% of the decedent’s “elective estate,” no matter what the decedent’s Will, Trust, or other type of estate plan might say. This statute then goes on to list all of the various types of properties and assets that are included in the calculation of the “elective estate.” Previously, the homestead was not included.
A frequent question which arises in probate matters is who owns the contents of a safe deposit box. The fact that a safe deposit box is leased to a husband and wife creates no legal presumption that property contained in the box is owned jointly by the husband and wife. The same principle applies to any safe deposit box owned jointly with (or with access permitted to) several people. For example, in one case the mere presence of bearer bonds in a safe deposit box leased to a husband and wife did not automatically become the property of the surviving spouse, but rather were deemed to be assets of the estate of the deceased husband.
In a different case, bonds located in a safe deposit box leased to a husband and wife were held to be jointly owned, upon proof that the bonds were purchased with funds kept in a joint bank account, were kept in the joint safe deposit box, each spouse had signed the lease to safe deposit box, each had a key and each had complete access to the box.
When the safe deposit box is leased in two or more names, the right of the co-lessee to enter the box is not affected by the death or incapacity of a co-lessee unless the lease contract expressly provides to the contrary. Nor is a co-lessee required to inventory anything removed from the safe deposit box post-death. Because the mere presence of property in a safe deposit box is not conclusive proof of ownership, the personal representative literally may be in a race to the bank to inventory and secure contents before a co-lessee can access and remove property from the box. If the co-lessee gains access to the box before the personal representative, it may become impossible to prove either the contents in the box or the value of those contents. As you can see, personal representatives must be very careful in dealing with safe deposit boxes - - - and have a good pair of track shoes.
The Florida Legislature recently has answered the emotional question of how a dispute of over a person’s cremated remains is to be split resolved. Two years ago, there was a court case involving a dispute between two divorced parents over the disposition of their son’s ashes. The father argued the ashes were assets of his son’s probate estate, so they should split like the rest of their son’s property, 50/50 with his ex-wife. The court ruled against him and the legislature now has codified the correctness of that decision.
Almost every month I present an educational workshop called “The Truth About Estate Planning”. We start off our small group discussion citing similar horrible statistics. It is interesting to see that someone finally surveyed people to find out if their will was up to date. But, it appears that the definition of “up to date” used was rather narrow. A will was considered to be out of date for this survey if made before a person got married or had children. No one could argue with that.
But what about other life changes such as divorce, death of a family member, child becoming an addict, child taking on significant debt, child getting a divorce, a significant increase in net worth, a significant decrease in net worth, a change in the estate tax law, a change in other laws affecting estates, such as Florida’s Homestead law….and on and on. Using these broader concepts, I believe over 90% of Americans do not have an estate plan that will work when the time comes that it had better work.
In a case from our own backyard, Keul vs Hodges Boulevard Presbyterian Church, Mrs. Lampp and her late husband executed wills in 2009, several months before he died. Their estate plan provided that after Mrs. Lampp’s death, the entire estate would go to Hodges Boulevard Presbyterian Church. When she died, Mrs. Lampp had $333,000 in Navy Federal Credit Union accounts that she had jointly owned with her husband before he died. Her "friendly" neighbor provided a "payable on death" form from the credit union that gave her (the neighbor!) 75% of the credit union accounts, 10% each to her son and daughter and the remaining 5% to her former daughter-in-law. Nothing was left to the church.