What actually is your estate?

An estate is your net worth on your date of death.

It includes all property that you own or control such as bank accounts, real estate, life insurance policies, stocks, and personal property like artwork, jewelry, and vehicles.

And, an estate also includes your debts, such as car loans, mortgages, and credit card debt.

What is an Estate Plan and Why is it so Important to have one?

No one likes to think about death, but, it is important to be prepared when the time comes so that your loved ones have a clear understanding of your final wishes.

Estate planning is making a plan in advance that provides details of how you want things handled when you pass.

So, basically an estate plan is a set of written instructions that describes how and to whom you want your property to be distributed after you die.

An estate plan may also provide other details such as funeral arrangements and care for pets when you have passed. 

Complete estate plans should also include health care instructions if you should become ill or disabled before you pass. You should also direct who can make financial and legal decisions for you if you become ill or disabled.

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 Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Essential Legal Documents for Unmarried Same-Sex Couples

Because unmarried same-sex couples are legal “strangers”, it is essential to have certain legal documents to protect each person’s interests and rights:

  • Domestic partnership agreement
  • Advance Medical Directive
  • Living Will
  • Durable Power of Attorney for finances
  • Co-parenting agreement (if no adoption by second parent)
  • Wills
  • Trusts
  • Nomination of guardian for adult and minor child
  • HIPPA (Privacy Law) authorization
  • Authorization for disposition of remains and funeral arrangements

These documents create the core of planning for unmarried same-sex couples. 

Additionally, there might be estate or gift tax issues facing unmarried couples who cannot avail themselves to favorable tax treatment for married couples.

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

Problems With Probate

What is Probate?

Probate is the legal process that wraps up a person’s legal and financial affairs after their death.  During the probate process, property is identified and given a value.  Outstanding debts and taxes are paid.  It can be a complex process filled with very specific legal requirements.

If a person dies with a valid Will, the probate court must ensure that the person’s assets are distributed according to their wishes.

If a person dies without a Will, the probate court sees that the person’s assets are distributed according to the laws of the State.

Probate Process

Probate can take a long time – form months to more than a year.

Probate can be expensive. The attorney fees are usually calculated on the value of the estate, but legal costs can rise if there is real estate to be sold, the will is contested, or for a variety of other reasons.

Probate is public.  The Will, Inventory, and other documents are filed in a public court.  Many of these documents can be viewed by the public.

Avoiding Probate

  • Assets can be structured so they may not have to go through probate in order to be distributed to your beneficiaries. Here are some of the ways:
  • Jointly held property
  • Death benefits from life insurance
  • Retirement accounts with a named beneficiary
  • Assets with a payable on death designation
  • Property held in Trust

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.

 

AGING SOLO?  BUILD A TEAM!

Many of my senior clients live alone – some never married, some are widowed or divorced, and many of my clients never had children or their children are deceased or estranged.  With no family member to rely on, they need someone trustworthy to pay bills and make critical decisions if they become ill.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Think creatively when selecting someone who can manage your affairs. It might be a cousin or niece or nephew, or maybe a trusted financial or legal advisor.
  • Try to select a health care agent who lives nearby or who can easily travel to you if you are ill. If not family, perhaps a close friend or clergy would be willing to help.
  • Simplify your financial life by consolidating your assets. This makes management easier for you or anyone who takes over.
  • Consult with an attorney about a Living Trust and Durable Power of Attorney. If you do not have a family member or close friend to serve as trustee or agent, talk to your attorney about a financial institution or other professional.  You can name co-trustees, say, a financial institution and a relative or friend, and require them to act together.

What’s most important is – have a plan.  Failure to plan is planning to fail.

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.

 Here at the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms, we provide complete Estate Planning services.  Our revocable trust is not the “one size fits all” document that comes in an expensive leather binder.  We consult with you, assess your situation and prepare your trust to meet your needs and goals.

We will also make sure that your trust is properly funded.  It is not enough to have a piece of paper titled “Trust”;   you must properly title your assets in order to avoid probate.    We will prepare deeds and work with your financial advisors and banks to make sure all assets are titled in the trust.

The initial consultation for Estate Planning services is free.  There is no pressure, no selling and no obligation.  Just 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.

 

 

 

An old saying goes that there are only two things that certain in life – death and taxes.  While neither of these things is anyone’s favorite subject, they both point towards the importance of Estate Planning.

When we talk about Estate Planning, we automatically think about Wills, Trusts, and other types of legal documents.  However, your estate planning documents will do little good if your family or trusted friends do not know where to find them.

Once you have put the finishing touches on your written estate plan, I recommend setting aside some time to talk about it with your family.  Tell them where your documents are kept and explain your wishes clearly.  While this might be an uncomfortable conversation, it can save your family from additional stress and confusion down the road.

If you need advice on estate planning, call the Law Office of Debra G. Simms today at 386.256.4882

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.

 

The Dangers of “Do It Yourself” (DYI) Estate Planning

Whenever I speak about estate planning at a seminar or before a civic group, I am asked this question:  Why can’t I just use the forms I can find online?

My answer:  You can.  But, remember, you get what you pay for.   You CAN do it yourself – but it’s really not a very good idea.  DYI estate planning breeds mistakes because when it comes to legal issues, one size never fits all.

My experience with reviewing DYI documents is that people tend to make mistakes when they fill out their own forms online.  Answering one question incorrectly or overlooking something such as appointing a guardian for children can lead to major problems down the road.

One of my prospective clients asked me to prepare a deed putting her home in her trust.  When I reviewed her trust, I saw that it was prepared according to community property and California law.  This lady lived in Florida and had never lived in California.  She sheepishly told me she found the trust on a celebrity money manager’s website.

Another client had a very well drafted trust he found online, but he had never funded the trust because he never received legal advice to do so.  Had he died before consulting with me, all of his assets would have gone through probate, even though his intent in doing a trust was to avoid probate.

Most people use online forms to save money.  I get that.  I like saving money, too.  At the Law Office of Debra G. Simms, we charge a flat fee for estate planning.  It is far more costly to fix mistakes than to do it right the first time.

If you need advice on preparing such documents, call the Law Office of Debra G. Simms today at 386.256.4882

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.

 

Protect Yourself Against Elder Abuse!

Florida is home to many senior citizens.  Unfortunately, this makes Florida a magnet for criminals who take advantage of the elderly.

Many elder abuse scams take the form of offering estate planning or financial services to vulnerable elderly adults.  The scammers convince victims to pay them thousands of dollars for various types of estate planning services such as in-home personal care and companion services, and insurance policies to cover long-term care.

Earlier this year, the Florida Attorney General sued a Broward County couple who allegedly stole a quarter of a million dollars from senior citizens throughout the state of Florida by offering long-term care programs and services.  The bulk of the funds were diverted to the scammers for their personal use.  The Attorney General’s office is suing under “deceptive practices” laws.  The case remains pending.

Proper estate planning can help protect against such abuse by ensuring there is a designated agent available to manage a vulnerable adult’s personal and financial affairs.  A Durable Power of Attorney or Trust are excellent tools to manage such situations.

If you need advice on preparing such documents, call the Law Office of Debra G. Simms today at 386.256.4882

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.

 

Many legal forms (Power of Attorney, Living Will) can be completed without professional help.  However, if you have a complex situation or questions, it’s a good idea to seek legal advice and services from an attorney specializing in elder law.

Elder Law focuses on disability planning, guardianship, estate planning, and other legal issues that typically affect older adults.

If you have a family attorney, he or she may be able to refer you to an elder law attorney.  Other resources include:

When you meet with your lawyer be sure to talk to your lawyer about the following key issues as well as any other concerns you may have:

  • Options for health care and long-term care decision-making for the person living with dementia
  • Options for managing the individual’s personal care and property
  • Possible coverage of long-term care services, including what is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, veteran benefits and other long-term care insurance.

The laws vary from state to state; make sure you understand your local laws and have any out-of-state documents updated in your new state.

Questions? The Law Office of Debra Simms is here to help. Call us today 386.256.4882

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.

A Dementia Living Will is specifically designed to address advance care planning in cases of dementia.  In order to be effective, the document must be combined with a Designation of Advance Healthcare Surrogate and a Living Will.

For many people with dementia, there can be a number of years between losing the ability to make medical decisions and the point at which a living will would take effect.  Multiple medical issues can occur during those years, and a lack of information leaves your healthcare surrogates unprepared.

The purpose of the Dementia Living Will is to provide information to your health care surrogate in case you develop dementia.  It is intended to serve as a communication tool so your surrogate is aware of your medical choices regarding medical issues that are common during dementia.

The document can be completed by anyone over the age of 18 and is particularly helpful for those who are concerned about a diagnosis of dementia in the future and those individuals who have been diagnosed with early dementia are still capable of making their own medical choices.

Disclaimer:  If properly drafted and executed with witnesses the document should comply with Florida law.  However, with any new legal document, there may be some legal issues.   In the case of any challenge to legality, a signed and witnessed documents will provide a presumption of “clear and convincing evidence of the principal’s wishes”.

The Law Office of Debra G. Simms now offers a Dementia Living Will.

Questions? The Law Office of Debra Simms is here to help. Call us today 386.256.4882

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

Port Orange Office:
Prestige Executive Center
823 Dunlawton Ave. Unit C
Port Orange, FL 32129
Local: 386.256.4882
Toll Free: 877.447.4667
New Smyrna Beach Office:
629 N. Dixie HWY
New Smyrna Beach, FL 32168
Local: 386.256.4882
Toll Free: 877.447.4667

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