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 Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

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.

What is a Charitable Bequest?

A charitable bequest is simply a distribution from your estate to a charitable organization through your last will and testament or trust.   There are different kinds of bequests.  For each, you must use very specific language to indicate the precise direction of your assets and to successfully carry out your final wishes.

In any charitable bequest, it is important to name the recipient accurately or your bequest may go to a charity you did not intend.

If you want your charity to use your gift is a certain way, you must also specify the purpose of your bequest. 

You do not need to be wealthy to make a charitable bequest.  A small gift is of value to all charitable organizations.

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.

The best place to keep signed original estate planning documents

The best place is probably in a safe deposit box because it will protect the documents from theft, fire, accidental loss, and most other types of damage or harm.  A potential problem, though, is getting it opened after your death. 

 If you decide to keep your estate planning documents in a safe deposit box, consider naming a family member or your Personal Representative or trustee as a joint holder on the box.  That should simplify matters following your death because someone will be able to get into the box without delay.

 Another place to keep your original estate planning documents is with the attorney who drafted them.  However, I have decided not to retain original documents because of concern over theft, fire, flood, storms, or other loss of the document.  It would also be prohibitively expensive to store hundreds or thousands of original documents.  Also, what would happen if I were to die or my law firm was to cease operations?

Many people keep their original estate planning documents at home in a secure place.  If you have a safe at home, that can be a good place to keep them.  Be aware though, when thieves enter your home and discover a locked safe, they often take the whole safe thinking they’ll find cash and jewelry.  The last thing they want is a file containing your estate planning documents, but that’s one of the things they’ll get if you keep them in your safe.  Therefore, unless your safe is bolted to the foundation of your house, it may not be the best place to keep your originals.

More people than you would expect keep original Wills and other estate planning documents in an air-tight plastic bag at the bottom of their freezers.  Freezers are well insulated and heavy and have a way of withstanding fires, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Also, they don’t die or move away, and they are stolen far less frequently than in-home safes.

Most importantly, make sure your designated representative knows where they are!

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.

Do You Have a Living Will?

Clients come to my office to talk with me about planning for incapacity and death.  These are hard conversations to have, even in an elder law attorney’s office.

Of all the documents that I prepare, the Living Will, gives my clients the most trouble.

This document, a dying declaration, states what kind of end-of-life care you want when there is no medical probability of recovery.  Most people do not want to be kept alive artificially.

But what does that mean?  Do you want a feeding tube?  Hydration?  Blood transfusion?  How far are you willing to go?  And what about dementia?  Do you want to be force fed when you no longer have hunger or the ability to feed yourself?

And who should be your advocates or decisions makers?  A family member (who might not be willing to let you go) or a medical person that you trust?

Knowing your legal rights and putting them in writing will help ensure that your wishes are met.

An elder law attorney can help guide you through this difficult conversation.

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.

How to Dispose of your Personal Property When you Pass

Florida law permits the use of a separate writing referred to in a Will to dispose of tangible personal property if it is not otherwise mentioned in the Will. The separate writing must be signed and dated by the maker of the Will and must describe the items with certainty- think “my diamond ring with 2 side rubies”.

The writing does not need to be witnessed or notarized and may be prepared after the execution of the Will. It can be changed, but it’s a good idea to resign and re-date the new writing so there is no confusion as to your intent. The most recent writing will be deemed to revoke any prior writing.

There is no prescribed form for this writing- some lawyers provided sample forms, but you could use any paper-even the back of an envelope!
Tangible personal property does not include cash, bank accounts or real estate. A separate writing is commonly used for jewelry, art, or sentimental items of value to you or your loved ones.

While a separate writing can be altered or revoked by marking through the entry and then re-signing and re-dating, never do this on a Will or Trust. Codicils or amendments to your Trust must be made with the same formalities as the original instruments.

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.

Keeping Digital Assets in the Family

Nowadays, many of us have “digital assets”.  Digital assets include Bitcoin, blogs that earn income, reward points for credit cards or airlines, and those with sentimental value such as digital photographs and social media.

To make sure that these important files can be passed on to your heirs, you need to take certain steps.

First, make a digital asset inventory.  Second, ensure your spouse, heirs, or representatives can access them.

You can have a password manager on your computer or smart phone for these devices.  But federal privacy laws may prohibit others from accessing your account.

Some companies such as Google and Facebook now have settings where you can name a person who will take over your account after your passing. 

For other accounts, you should have an up to date Will, Trust, and Durable Power of Attorney which specifically permits your designated agent to access these accounts.  Florida is one of the states which now has a Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets statutes which governs and enforces these documents.

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.

The Role of an Estate Planning Attorney

Planning for end of life is a difficult but necessary process.  Part of this planning is the creation of a legally binding estate plan that dictates your wishes and appoints certain people with the responsibility of carrying out those wishes.

Using an experienced estate planning attorney is advised. The attorney can walk you through the process from start to finish, prepare the documents, and make sure that the documents are properly executed.

Another advantage of using a professional estate planning attorney is to ensure that your real estate and other assets are properly titled to be certain that legal title is clear and assets can be transferred to your selected beneficiaries. This process can include advising on deeds, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, and marital settlement agreements after divorce.

An experienced estate planning attorney can also advise you on other end-of-life choices, such as financial and medical directives, organ donation, disposition of remains, and similarly important decisions. Without an estate planning attorney’s assistance, you may find yourself setting your family up for more hardship as the result of poor planning.

An attorney can also advise clients about how to best provide for beneficiaries with special needs, educational requirements, or other considerations. The attorney can also create a plan for meeting philanthropic goals and include charities or other organizations in your estate plan.

Planning ahead is important for everyone, no matter how large or small the estate. Using an experienced estate planning attorney will ensure that your plans can be carried out.

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.


Many of us tend to procrastinate about making hard decisions.  Unfortunately, with estate planning and elder care, this can have dire consequences.

Recently, an 80 year old lady came to see me about doing her Will.  She was clear in her mind about who she wanted to leave her money to when she died and who should take care of her finances if she became too ill.  And, she knew what kind of care she wanted if she could no longer live alone.

I was hired to do a basic Estate Plan for her – Will, Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Directive, and Living Will.  I prepared the documents and called her to come in to sign.  No Answer.  Next day, No Answer.

It turns out my client had a stroke and was unlikely to recover.  She had no legal documents in place to authorize any of her children to handle her finances or make decisions regarding health care.  The children could not agree, and a guardianship case was opened in court while my client remained in the hospital unable to communicate.

This is an all too familiar story in my Elder Law practice.

Why do people procrastinate about these important planning tools?  It’s simple:

  • No one wants to think about mental incapacity or death.
  • No one likes to pay attorney fees.
  • No one likes to expose their personal life to another person, even an attorney.
  • No one wants to give a child the authority to “put them in a home”.
  • Sometimes it’s not easy to decide how to divide your estate.

It’s wise to start your estate planning early.  Here are some top reasons:

  • The top reason, of course, is my 80 year old client.  You might lose your ability to sign documents.
  • Like my client, you might lose your ability to communicate your wishes to your family or doctors.
  • Keep harmony among family members – my client’s children could not agree what to do – they went to court!
  • You might need someone to handle your finances if you cannot.

After watching my client and many others like her, I know how important it is to plan ahead.

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

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