Did You Include Your Pet in Your Estate Plan?

People consider their spouses and children when creating their estate plan.  But, pets are family, too.  An estate plan should consider every aspect of life – if you have a pet, having someone ready and willing to look after them is crucial.

Your Will and Power of Attorney should name at least two people who can take of your pet.  Depending on timing, the first person named may not be able to take care of the pet. And if you don’t have a family member or friend, then there are charities such as no-kill shelters that can provide this care.

Even the nicest friend or a charity may not be willing to take care of your pet for free, so it is important to leave money to provide for the animal’s needs during their lifetime. You can easily do this with a Pet Trust.

Having some money placed in a Pet Trust can give you control and peace of mind that your pet will be well cared for.  The amount of money you leave will depend on the type of animal, and its age, type of food, and medical costs.

Give yourself peace of mind.  Don’t leave your beloved pet’s welfare up to chance.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Estate planning attorneys are often asked by their clients to prepare Wills that pass along their money with strings attached.  I call this “dead hand control”.

A common example is making an inheritance contingent upon the beneficiary being married to a person of a particular religion.  Another one is requiring that the beneficiary be drug-free for a period of time.

Is this legal?  In general, courts tend to allow people to pass along their money with strings attached, provided that those strings do not foster behavior that is illegal or against public policy. In an Illinois case a few years ago, a man-made his grandchildren’s inheritance contingent on their marrying Jewish spouses. The Will was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Clients who want this are doing what they think is best for the beneficiary.  But clients also need to understand that putting conditions on their bequests can cause their family pain.

Consider this Florida case: Grandma died leaving a sizable estate to her 3 granddaughters.  The money was divided equally, but they would only get their inheritance if they were married to a person of Grandma’s religion.  Two of the sisters were, but one was not -she was happily married to someone of a different religion and had 2 children.  She would not inherit.  All three of the sisters were shocked and angry.  The Executor of the estate explained that its hands were tied and their only recourse was an uphill battle in the courts.

Conditional bequests, related to religion or anything else, should always be thoroughly discussed with your estate planning lawyer.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

 5 Tips for Securing Your Assets, Healthcare and Legacy

It’s your life and your legacy:  Make sure you have an updated estate plan.  And don’t wait until it’s too late!

Create or Update Your Estate Plan: avoid unnecessary taxes, family arguments, and creditors

  • Wills allow you to transfer property to your selected beneficiaries, permits a parent to name a guardian, can help protect beneficiaries against creditors, and reduces the burden on family
  • Revocable Trusts allow you to distribute your assets at death and can allow you to avoid probate. 
  • Irrevocable Trusts can help you qualify for financial assistance if you need long-term care and can provide for strong creditor protection for you and your beneficiaries.
  • Special Needs Trusts allows you to leave assets to a disabled heir without risking the loss of Social Security, Medicaid benefits, or food assistance.

Create Your Durable Power of Attorney and Medical Directives.

  • A Durable Power of Attorney authorizes your named agent to act in your place for financial and legal decisions if you are incapacitated.
  • An Advance Medical Directive allows you to name someone to make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated.
  • A Living Will allows you to express your desires about life-prolonging procedures if you are at the end of life with no hope of recovery.

Review and Update your Beneficiary Designations on your Life Insurance and Retirement Plans.

Consider New Laws.  Do the new tax laws affect your estate?

Review Social Security and Retirement Benefits.  What is your full retirement age?  Should you delay your benefits to increase your monthly benefits?

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Risks abound for Do It Yourself estate planners

Yes, you can do your estate planning without professional help.

However, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  The risk of making a mistake is greater without help.

The problem with the forms found on websites is that Florida has strict rules on how those documents need to be executed in order to be valid.  You can download those forms, but you have no way of knowing if you did it properly or if it was appropriate for you.

Your estate plan is your last testament to living family.  Not understanding how property passes after death is a heavy consequence.  Mistakes can leave loved ones disappointed and frustrated.  And mistakes have financial consequences.

And remember, your estate plan cannot be fixed if you are not of sound mind and certainly not after death.  You and your heirs could be stuck with an estate plan that has terrible consequences.

Saving legal fees is usually the motivation for DIY documents.  But, is it worth the risk?  If you make a mistake, the legal fees will be much greater later when mistakes have to be fixed.  And attorneys can save you money in the long run.  A lawyer can offer guidance and provide options for you that you might not even think about when you go online.

You wouldn’t do surgery on yourself, would you?  Why do your own estate plan?

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Spending Time With Pets is Good For You!

Most seniors want to stay at home while they age, but social isolation is a common problem.  A new survey done by a senior home care agency reports that one in five senior Americans reports feeling lonely.  The survey concludes that seniors who own pets are healthier and happier!

Survey results found that senior pet owners cited stress relief, sense of purpose and exercise as leading benefits to owning a pet. Pet owners are also more likely to have lower blood pressure and pets have even been shown to aid in recovery after a heart attack.

Research also shows animal interaction can help perceptions of pain and discomfort, and improve motivation for treatment protocols for diseases such as cancer by helping individuals feel more focused and positive moving forward.

Seniors should be encouraged to be safe and happy in their own homes for as long as possible. That may include helping them with their pets, taking them to dog parks or visiting pet-friendly businesses.

And what about those seniors who want to move to a senior living community?

Eight-two percent of senior animal owners surveyed said they would not consider moving to a senior living community without their pet.

Some senior living facilities accept pets and almost all encourage visits from pets.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

For families with young children or grandchildren, special attention must be given to how assets will pass to minors. 

If the child is under the age of 18, thought must be given as to how the child should receive the assets and who will be in charge of those assets.

If there is no provision in your estate plan, then the court will appoint a guardian to manage the minor’s property.  But, often time, the guardian is not someone you would want. (think spendthrift son-in-law who is the father of your grandchild)

Another way of doing it is to set up a trust for minors and name an appointed trustee – someone you trust!  And the trust can have manageable provisions, such as giving the trustee the right to make distributions to the minor for health, education, maintenance and support until such time as the child reaches a later age, typically 25 or even older. 

Management for younger children is very important.  It can keep them on track and provide for their education.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Domestic Partners Beware

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of unmarried couples ages 50 and over rose 75% between 2007 and 2016. Many of these couples choose to keep their finances separate because they already experienced one difficult divorce and are nervous to entangle themselves and their possessions again.

 But living together presents complex estate planning issues because laws are written to favor married couples.

For example, if one partner has a medical emergency, the other partner cannot make any decisions or even communicate with physicians unless there is a health care power of attorney and HIPPA release. That’s because unmarried partners  are considered “legal strangers.”

Death of one partner can also create many issues. Without the proper legal documents, the surviving partner is not entitled to even make burial or cremation arrangements for the deceased partner.

Also, without a Will or Trust in place, the deceased partner’s assets will be distributed according to the intestacy laws of the state and an unmarried partner is not recognized as an heir. 

Do not delay seeking legal advice if you are an unmarried couple.  The consequences could be devastating.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

As our lives go digital, so will, inevitably, our death. Emails we send, photographs we post, and thoughts we share are all stored digitally. These are users’ digital remains that reflect their digital personalities and at the same time, make up the memories for friends and family.

Florida has now enacted laws regarding access to digital remains after death.   These laws are important because a conflict might arise between the privacy expectations of the user, and his or her family and friends’ wish to use the digital remains for mourning and commemoration.

It is important to make sure that your estate planning documents incorporate the language of the new laws and that your desires are clearly spelled out.  If your Will or Power of Attorney was created prior to 2014, it should be updated to address this concern.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

From the New York Times:

Sisters Joslin Roth and Darci Bernard realized years ago that there was a need in Seattle for pet death care. Ms. Roth says that “you could do stand-up paddleboard yoga with your dog but couldn’t visit a death care provider.” So in December 2016, the pair opened Resting Waters in West Seattle where they offer their clients aquamation, a water-based alternative to flame-based cremation.

Jerry Shevick, a former television executive, knew that the pet industry as a whole increases every year. Understanding this fact as well as the knowledge that owners want to care for their furry loved ones as they would a child or family member, he started Peaceful Pets Aquamation in Newbury Park, California, in 2013. He offers the service because of the decreased carbon footprint, stating that aquamation “really uses the same components that natural decomposition uses. With people paying attention to climate change, it’s becoming more interesting to people as well.”

The pet death industry is not yet as regulated as human funeral services. Occasionally, though, someone seeking to open an aquamation facility will have difficulty convincing wastewater-treatment officials that the process is sufficiently pure. Nearly 20 states that have recently legalized aquamation as a means of dealing with human corpses including Washington and California… (and Florida!)

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Can’t make the funeral on time?  LIVESTREAM!

When a person’s death happens suddenly, family and friends from different places cannot manage to be at their loved one’s funeral. And some religious practices dictate that a funeral be held within 24 hours.

Some funeral chapels now feature a new amenity: live-streaming the service so others can watch, and even uploading a recording of the funeral onto the online obituary.

Bryant Hightower, the president-elect of the National Funeral Directors Association, says that live streaming funeral services has been around for more than a decade but has just now become more mainstream. The funeral industry is often hesitant to any change, but Hightower says that now approximately 20% of funeral homes now offer the service, much to the delight of clients.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Contact Us

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823 Dunlawton Ave. Unit C
Port Orange, FL 32129
Local: 386.256.4882
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New Smyrna Beach, FL 32168
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