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 Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Estate Planning for Singles


Single people with no children are usually able to save more money than others and yet it may be likely that they have not put much effort into their estate plans.

Here are 4 simple tips for single clients:

  • Execute a durable power of attorney and a healthcare advance directive.
    • Even those without children do not live forever, even though mortality may not be showing in their faces like those with children! Establishing a durable power of attorney and a healthcare advance directive will allow another person to make important financial and medical decisions for a single client, if it becomes necessary to do so.
  • Make a will.
    • With no direct descendants nor a spouse, a will is necessary in disposing of assets. The client can name the executor/personal representative to handle the affairs, and the will can name the beneficiaries. 
  • Create a revocable trust.
    • A trust can be used to avoid the costs and delays of probate.
  • Consider estate taxes.
    • Singles have no direct descendants, so any beneficiaries will be receiving a windfall. If giving these beneficiaries more and the government less is important, the single individual should consider charitable giving as a means to lower taxes.

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 the difference between a Designation of Health Care Surrogate and a Living Will?

A Designation of Health Care Surrogate is a document that allows you to name an agent to make medical treatment decisions for you in accordance with your wishes if you are not able to do so yourself.

A Living Will is a document that allows you to address what kind of medical treatment you would like to receive if you ever face a terminal or irreversible medical condition. It is often referred to as the document where you tell the doctors to “pull the plug.” Most people request that all treatments other than those needed to keep them comfortable be discontinued or withheld so they can be allowed to die as gently as possible.

The main difference between the two documents is that the Living Will is where you actually express your own specific preferences as to the use of life-sustaining treatment, and the Designation of Health Care Surrogate is where you name one or more persons to make most medical decisions for you.

It is not uncommon to combine a Living Will and a Designation of Health Care Surrogate into a single form. Preparing the two documents as separate forms or as a single form are both valid ways to address the medical issues.

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

Many people do not revisit their estate plans once it has been created, but changes in circumstances mean that it’s time to pull it out and make changes. Death of a spouse, divorce, remarriage, birth of a disabled grandchildren, are some of the triggers.

Keep your beneficiary elections updated. These designations supersede your will or Trust. A first step for anyone who’s gone through a divorce is to check the beneficiary designations on retirement and other financial accounts. A lot of people walk away from their spouse, but never do any of the clean-up work.

Bottom Line. While it may seem easy to put off doing your initial estate planning or updating your planning until later, it’s the most important way you can protect your assets during your life and pass them along to those you care about. Final Wishes are just that – wishes. You need legally enforceable documents to ensure your wishes will be carried out.

Call the Law Office of Debra G. Simms for a free initial consultation.

 

If you are now a Florida resident and your estate planning documents were prepared in another State, there are many potential problems.

  • Your out of state Will might not be admissible in a Florida Probate.  If your Will is not “self-proving” (meaning that there is an affidavit stating that you signed your Will in front of the witnesses and a notary all at the same time), then a Florida Probate Judge might not admit the Will without further proof that the Will is authentic.  This adds cost and delay to the probate process.

 

  • Your out of state Will might name a Personal Representative (sometimes called an Executor) who is not a qualified person under Florida Law.  In Florida, the Personal Representative must either be a relative or a resident of Florida.  If you have not named a qualified successor Personal Representative, this could create conflict with your heirs and would certainly add cost and delay to the probate process.

 

  • Your revocable living trust might hold Florida real estate.  If that real estate is your homestead, your trust must contain certain language addressing Florida Homestead requirements.  You do not need a new trust, but might very well need to add an amendment to your existing trust.

 

  • Your out of state Power of Attorney and Medical Directive might not comply with Florida Statutes.  This could create issues and delay when dealing with Florida banks, government agencies, health care providers, etc.  It is best to have Florida specific powers of attorney, especially if you become incapable of handling your own affairs.

 

 

Planning Techniques to Avoid Probate

What is Probate?

Probate is the legal process the Court takes to distribute your property and pay your debts upon your death.  During the probate process, your property is identified, inventoried, and then distributed to your beneficiaries.  The Court makes certain that any and all debts and taxes are paid before any final distribution of assets to the beneficiaries.  If you have a Will, the Court will make sure your assets reach your named beneficiaries; if you do not have a Will, the Court will distribute the property according to the rules of “intestate succession” which is in the Florida statutes.

The probate process has very specific legal requirements and cause problems including:

Delay:

Probate can take a lot of time, anywhere from 3-6 months to over a year.  If you have creditor claims, unpaid taxes, or heirs who contest the Will, the process can take longer.

Higher Legal Fees:

The probate process can become expensive.  According to Florida law, you must have an attorney is required in most probate proceedings.  Attorney’s fees are based on a percentage of the value of the probate estate, but could be based on an hourly rate.  The longer the probate takes, the more it will cost, leaving the heirs with less than intended.  If there are any challenges to the probate, the cost can be very high.

No privacy:

When your Will becomes part of the probate file in the Court, it is a public document; how much you left behind, how much you owe to creditors, and who are your beneficiaries are no longer private family matters.

Ways to Avoid Probate

Build a Trust

One of the best ways to avoid probate is to create a living revocable trust.  A living trust is very similar to a will and allows the role of a trustee to take control in the event of death.  This makes your property no longer part of your probate estate and it avoids the probate process entirely.  You can instruct your trustee, upon your death, how they should transfer the property to the proper beneficiaries.

Joint Tenancy

Another way to avoid probate is to have your property held jointly.  If your spouse or significant other passes, the jointly held property will go to the surviving member, completely avoiding the probate process.  Of course, unless the surviving member then takes further steps to avoid probate, there will be a probate when he or she passes.

Beneficiary Designations and Payable on Death Accounts

If you have completed beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and life insurance policies those assets will pass to the named individual, completely avoiding the probate process.  It is always a good idea to name a secondary or contingent beneficiary, in case your beneficiary predeceases you.

For bank and investment accounts, you can designate the account be “payable on death” or “transfer on death” to a named beneficiary.  This, too, will completely avoid the probate process.

Lady Bird Deed

A “Lady Bird Deed” offers a simple, inexpensive way to transfer real estate upon your death, without probate.  These deeds work to transfer the property upon your death, much like a transfer on death account.  These deeds have some drawbacks, however, and it is advisable to discuss your situation with an estate planning attorney.

 

Contact the Law Office of Debra G. Simms for your free consultation to discuss how you can avoid Probate.

The New York Times Reports:

u-s-to-bar-arbitration-clauses-in-nursing-home-contractsNursing homes have long blocked abuse and harassment claims from reaching courts. A major new federal rule puts a stop to that.

The federal agency that controls more than $1 trillion in Medicare and Medicaid funding has moved to prevent nursing homes from forcing claims of elder abuse, sexual harassment and even wrongful death into the private system of justice known as arbitration. Read more

Daytona, New Smyrna Beach Area Lawyer

logo1You never know when legal problems crop up in business or at home. Especially if the problem is regarding money, and lots of it, you will have to consider hiring a lawyer. A lawyer will be able to guide you through the process of rectifying or solving the problem and offer strategic solutions to avoid similar incidents from happening again.

So how do you go about finding an attorney who understands your needs and is an economical fit in your budget? If you are in Volusia County or New Smyrna Beach or Port Orange or Daytona or from surrounding areas, here is what you can do.

  1. Search online

Nowadays, every lawyer or law firm has an online presence. Based on your location and type of case you have, numerous sites are available where you can contact and connect with lawyers. This is one of the best ways to find a good lawyer because you can also check their portfolio without having to sweat it out.

  1. Personal referral

Talk to relatives, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and groups who know a reliable lawyer or are facing the same legal troubles as you. But do not go by word-of-mouth alone because every person has a different take on a lawyer’s credibility and personality.

  1. Make a list of prospective attorneys

Do not take the first name you find and finalize it. Consider every option, no matter who recommends them, and make a prospective contact list. You can use this list to narrow your options and keep only those who you think are best suited to represent your case. To choose the correct attorney, take a look at the kind of clients they take in, study the cases they have handled, read articles and papers written by them, and flick through newspapers to see if there has been any publicity of the cases they have handled or are handling currently.

  1. Find objective information

Every state in the US has a bar association which will provide you a lot of information on how to find prominent lawyers in your area for a specific case. If you have already found one, you can simply log on to the bar association’s website and check whether they are an active member of the bar and have not been disciplined, suspended or disbarred.

  1. Call the lawyer

Talking to the lawyer before you decide to meet them will save you a lot of time and help narrow the list even more. In case you are unable to reach them, try to arrange a personal meeting.

  1. Face-to-face interview

Some lawyers may be willing to meet you at no charge while others may not. The decision to take it further depends on you. During the meeting, you can assess their personality, communication skills, willingness to work with you, and enthusiasm for their work.

  1. Finalize your legal representation

After meeting all your prospects and having made a decision, contact the lawyer and discuss terms for taking up the case, the budget you can afford, and any additional services they offer. Go over the case with them and understand how they plan to handle it.

You may consult the law offices of Debra G Simms for legal problems. Selecting the right attorney who knows their job well and is able to provide credible advice is vital to getting out of legal hassles satisfactorily.

To contact Florida attorney Debra G. Simms, P.A. in Port Orange or New Smyrna Beach, FL please call 877.447.4667.

Florida Probate Law

There are a number of reasons to be wary of Probate. Here are some of those reasons.

1. Probate can be expensive The legal fees can eat up a chunk of your estate, and the costs can go up significantly for larger estates.

2. Probate can tie up an estate. The length of time depends on how complicated the case is and whether anyone is objecting. Even short delays can hurt beneficiaries. Assets may be completely unavailable until the probate is opened and and personal representative (called an executor in some states) is appointed. This can really hurt a spouse and young kids, or those who are called upon to advance funds for funerals and attorneys.
3. Probate also raises privacy concerns because it puts the will into public record. Some people may not want others to know to whom they left their assets.

Responding to these concerns, many states have enacted streamline procedures, at least for small estates. In Florida, for instance, estates under $75,000 (not including the primary residence, the family car, and household belongings) may be eligible for a Summary Administration.

Way to Avoid Florida Probate

Other ways to avoid Probate is to keep assets out of Probate’s reach.

Here are some of the most common and least expensive ways to do so.

1. Create and fund a revocable living trust. Living trusts have become more and more common and really coming to the fore in estate planning. The average cost for a living trust for a married couple is $1,500.00. This can save thousands of dollars of probate costs.

2. Payable on Death Accounts or Transfer on Death Accounts. There is no cost to doing this, it’s just a matter of setting up your bank and brokerage (non-retirement) accounts in this way.

3. Beneficiary Designations. For Life Insurance, Retirement Accounts, and Annuity type financial products, you can simply fill out a form which designates your primary and secondary beneficiaries. Doing this will avoid these assets from passing to your estate and requiring a Probate before they can be distributed.

4. Transfer on Death Deeds. This is the latest trend in estate planning, and allows real property to pass directly to the named transferee(s) upon the property owner’s death. Like a Transfer on Death Bank Account, the property transfers outside of a Will and is not subject to Probate.

The upcoming blog posts will explore these ways to avoid probate. But, don’t do it yourself. DYI is never a good idea in estate planning. Contact a lawyer to make sure your documents are bullet proof.

To contact attorney Debra G. Simms, P.A. in Port Orange or New Smyrna Beach, FL please call 877.447.4667.

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