Estate Planning for Single Parents

No one with young children wants to think that something might happen to them. But for a single parent, that difficult thought brings on added worries. After all, what will happen to your child should the unthinkable happen.

Estate Planning for Single ParentsEveryone with children should prepare a will and other important documents. In my law practice in South Florida, I help single parents carefully think through what they would want to happen to their child if they unexpectedly passed away or became incapacitated. Here are a few guidelines to help.

Make a Will

Younger people often think a will is something older people need. But parents of young children, and especially single parents, need a will more than almost anyone else. That’s because in addition to money and property, you have the care of your child to consider. Whether your assets are vast or modest, a will carefully lays out your wishes. This keeps your children from experiencing a lengthy court battle among various relatives, which happens more often than you might think. You’ll want to revisit and update the will as your children grow.

Name a Guardian

One of the most important sections of your will is to name a guardian. This person, a very close relative or friend whom you trust deeply, will care for your child if you pass away and the child’s other parent is not alive or has no parental rights; a guardian can also manage the money that goes to your children from your will.

You can additionally name a guardian in a document outside of your will. Florida law allows you to designate a “preneed guardian,” a person who will be legally responsible for your children if you become incapacitated, a condition that does not trigger the will. This simple document can be drafted by an attorney when they make up your will.

You’ll want to revisit your choice of guardian over the years. Someone who might be appropriate for your children when they are young might not be best if they are teenagers, especially if that would mean uprooting them to another state.

Consider a Trustee

If you prefer to break up the roles of the person who would care for your children and the one who oversees their money, you can name a trustee in your will to manage your child’s assets.  The trustee’s role can terminate when your child reaches adulthood, or can continue for as long as desired.

Determine If You Need a Special Trust

If you have a lot of money or a child with special needs, you might want to create a trust for your children. This money is placed into the trust at a bank when you create it. Your child cannot access this money until they reach the age you specify, typically 21 or later.

Life Insurance

You can name your minor child as a beneficiary of your life insurance. But if you pass away before they become of age, their guardian or trustee will be in charge of the money.

If you are interested in drafting a will or other documents for your estate planning in South Florida, contact the Law Office of Gary Landau for a FREE legal consultation at 954-979-6566 or by email. Attorney Gary Landau personally returns all calls and emails to him.

What are the Responsibilities of a Personal Representative?

Responsibilities of a Personal RepresentativeOther states call them “executors” (or, ridiculously, for women, “executrix”), but in Florida they’re known as personal representatives (PR). That’s the person who, in a formal probate administration proceeding is charged by the court with satisfying the steps needed to distribute a deceased person’s assets.

The duties of a personal representative are carried out in accordance with Florida probate law. In Florida, the PR can be a person (as is most common), but it can also be a bank or private entity. Personal representatives are typically named in a person’s will, but if the named PR is unwilling or unable to serve (for example, a non-relative who does not live in Florida is not allowed to serve, even if the person’s will names them), one is appointed by the court. Florida law allows a PR to collect 3 percent of the estate’s probate assets as a fee for their work.

Here are some of the things a personal representative is charged with doing:

  • Identifying and securing all the assets of the estate. Bank accounts, stock mutual funds, property, cars, cash…. The PR’s job is to find and value of all assets that will become part of the probated estate.
  • Identifying creditors and paying valid claims while objecting to invalid ones. Working with a probate attorney, the PR sends a “Notice to Creditors” to everyone who may be owed money by the estate, then pays those claims from the estate’s bank account (specially opened for this purpose). If claims are made that are not valid, the PR can challenge them.
  • Filing tax returns and paying any taxes that may owed. While most estates fall under the roughly $5-million threshold for paying a federal estate tax, a final tax return still needs to be prepared and filed and regular income and other taxes paid for the final tax year of the person’s life.
  • Distributing assets to all beneficiaries. Once all the debts have been paid, the PR works with the attorney to distribute all assets according to the person’s will (or, if there is no valid will, Florida law).
  • Closing the probate estate. As their last task, the PR finalizes the legal “closing” of the estate and the estate’s bank account.

The personal representative is one piece of a complex process of a formal probate administration. Working with an experienced probate attorney can help guide you through the process. The Law Office of Gary Landau has been handling probates across the state of Florida for more than 20 years. Contact us by phone at 954-979-6566 or by email for a FREE consultation. Attorney Gary Landau personally returns all calls and emails to him.

New Document Available To Denote Your Last Emotional Wishes

As a probate law firm in Florida, we speak to many clients who have just lost a loved one and were at a loss to know what their dying relative had wanted from them towards the end of their life. That’s why we developed My Last Emotional Wishes. This free document allows everyone—whether currently diagnosed with a life-limiting disease or just wanting to plan for the future—to record their end-of-life emotional desires, taking the guesswork away from struggling family and friends.

My Last Emotional WishesThe form, created in consultation with hospice professionals and other experts, allows you to write out such wishes as how you’d want to live if your time was limited; whether you’d want people to talk about your illness with you or mostly have their regular conversations; the people, items, music and/or prayers you’d want to be surrounded by in your final days; whether you’d want to be free of all pain near the end or wanting to tolerate discomfort if that means you can remain conscious; what you most want to be remembered for; where you’d ideally like to be when you pass on; the mood you’d prefer at your funeral/memorial service; and more.

My Last Emotional Wishes is offered free by the Law Office of Gary Landau, a probate and real-estate law firm located in South Florida. The four-page PDF form is easily downloadable from the firm’s website, GaryLandau.com (Scroll to the bottom of the page). After you fill out the form, let a loved one know you’ve created it, then store it alongside other important papers in your home (not in a bank vault, which can be hard for others to access in a crisis). Because this is not a legal form, but rather a reflection of your desires, there’s no need to have your signature witnessed or notarized.

“We created this form to help people provide emotional direction to their loved ones in the last stages of life,” says Gary Landau, the firm’s principal and an experienced probate attorney, who has watched struggling families wish they’d better known how to help their dying relative emotionally, and hopes to help others avoid this situation.

Because this form only deals with emotional issues, Landau cautions, it does not replace other legal documents everyone should have. This includes a Last Will and Testament, a Living Will (also called an Advanced Directive), and a Healthcare Proxy. (In some cases, a Financial Proxy is also desirable.)

If you know someone who might benefit from My Last Emotional Wishes, feel free to share this information.

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“My Parent Died Without a Will. What Should I Do?”

The legal word is “intestate”–which means a person has passed away without leaving a valid will. Florida probate law is very specific about how property and money are passed to living heirs when there is no will. (And it doesn’t always correspond with what you know your parent would want, which is why I encourage everyone to have a will that is properly drafted.)

 

The Florida Probate Code determines who inherits your parent’s probatable estate (homestead property–the person’s primary residence, is treated separately under the law). It’s kind of complex, depending on the makeup of the remaining family:

 

  • Your living parent inherits everything if he/she is the legal spouse and has no other children who are not the children of the deceased parent (say, from a prior marriage).
  • You and your biological siblings inherit everything equally if your deceased parent doesn’t have a living spouse.
  • You and your siblings inherit half and the living spouse inherits the other half if the living spouse is not your (and your siblings’) biological parent.
  • Similarly, you and your siblings inherit half and the living spouse inherits the other half if that surviving spouse has other children who are not the children of your deceased parent.
  • If one or more of your siblings who is the legal child of the deceased parent died before the parent, but has living children (i.e., your parent’s grandchildren), those kids inherit their parent’s share.

 

For children to inherit under the laws of intestacy in Florida, they must be legal children. This includes: biological children, even if they were not raised by the deceased parent; legally adopted kids; children conceived by your deceased parent even if they were not born until after their death; and kids born outside of marriage, assuming they have proven paternity or the deceased parent acknowledged paternity during their lifetime. Children who are not American citizens or don’t live in this country are still entitled to their share. However, foster children, step children, and biological children legally adopted by another person are not.

 

To help you understand your legal rights if a relative passes away in the state of Florida, or to draft or update your own will, contact the Law Office of Gary Landau for a FREE legal consultation at 954-979-6566 or by email. Attorney Gary Landau personally returns all calls and emails to him.

 

How To Have A Smooth Real Estate Closing When You’re the Seller

Sellers of real estate property often think their work is finished when the contract is signed. But until you’ve handed over the keys, and your closing attorney has handed over the deed, there are still things you need to focus on:

How To Have A Smooth Real Estate Closing When You’re the Seller1)   Title issues. If your closing agent/attorney turns up any problems, or “clouds” on your title, they will work to resolve it with your help. Maybe you forgot to get a permit closed for work you did a long time ago, or maybe there was a mistake when you added a relative to the deed. While these clouds can be cleaned up by a qualified attorney, there may be steps they need you to take, which you must do right away.

2)   Repairs.  If you haven’t maintained your house over the years, you might want to consider having your own professional inspection done before you list the home, then fix the problems that are detected, so they won’t cause problems later. If you haven’t done this, and your buyer’s inspection turns up trouble (assuming you are not selling the home “as is”), you’ll need to ensure those repairs as completed as soon as possible.

3)   Condition of the property. When you sign a contract, the buyer is agreeing to buy the home in the same condition they saw it. During the period between contract signing and closing date, it’s important for the seller to maintain the property, and to repair anything that breaks during this time. After you move out and before the buyer has a walk-through, be sure to thoroughly clean your soon-to-be-ex home inside and out.

4)   Closing documents. When you get the documents before the closing, you’ll need to review them as closely and as quickly as possible to make sure all the figures are correct. If you have any questions, ask your attorney to explain. That way, when you get to the closing, the final steps will also be as smooth as possible, and you’ll soon be on your way to your next adventure.

Sometimes sellers in South Florida think they do not need an attorney. My years of experience shows hiring an attorney is always a cost-effective move, because having a professional not only doing the seller’s documents but also representing your interests can save you time, headache, and, most important, money. Problems that turn up on the seller’s side after the contract’s signing can sometimes even kill the deal if they are not handled quickly and professionally.

For more on the steps buyers should take after the contract signing, see my prior blog.

Having the Law Offices of Gary M. Landau by your side during each step in a real estate deal helps insure that the process goes smoothly. For more information about your real estate contract in South Florida, call 954-979-6566 or email for a free consultation.