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 Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

The content of your will and other estate planning documents is very important. If you choose to write your will yourself, your family could face a number of obstacles after you are gone. As your will passes through probate court, its content could be challenged by anyone who feels they were wronged. An estate planning attorney can help you avoid such dilemmas by ensuring that all wording is clear and that your intentions are understood.

Your will can also be challenged if it was not signed according the requirements of your state’s statutes.  Having a wrongly signed will is the same having no will at all.

An experienced attorney can also help avoid having to probate your will, resulting in cost and time savings for your family.

An estate planning attorney also has knowledge of financial issues that may affect your estate. Drafting a will is not just about who will end up with your money and your house. An attorney will look at all aspects of your finances, such as any retirement accounts you may have and will also consider your debts. There might be other details to consider such as who will care for your pet when you pass.

A properly drafted estate plan can give you peace of mind. It is important to remember that having a will is important no matter the size of your estate. Each estate is different, and an attorney can help you find an estate plan that best meets your needs. 

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.

“Problem” Heirs

Do you have a child or heir with credit problems or a drug or alcohol problem?  Or maybe your child is having marital problems and you do not want their spouse to end up with your money!  None of us want our life’s earnings to be squandered, and an inheritance could end up making matters worse.

You might not want to disinherit your child entirely because of his or her personal problems.  Here is a solution to allow you to control your child’s inheritance and insure that it won’t be squandered or misused.

Create a Trust!  A Trust can pass wealth to an heir while controlling how, when, and why your heir can access the funds.  One of the advantages of a Trust is flexibility.  Here are some of the ways you can accomplish your goals:

Appoint a Trustee who can resist the pleas of a desperate beneficiary.  Do you have a close relative who can do this?  If not, appoint a professional Trustee, such as the trust company of your bank.

Specify the specific circumstances under which the funds will be paid out.  Or, you can give the Trustee complete discretion over disbursement decisions.  For example:

If you heir has drug or alcohol problem, require drug testing before the funds are paid.  Or give your heir incentive to change by structuring lump-sum disbursements after prescribed periods of time – perhaps require five years of sobriety.

Create an incentive for work by disbursing funds that are tied to wages or earnings.

Direct that payments must be made directly to third-party providers such as a landlord, mortgage company or utility company.

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 people ask me why they have heard that they should avoid probate. 

Here is how the probate process works:

Probate is a legal process that wraps up a person’s legal and financial affairs after their death.  During this court process, property is identified and inventoried.  Also, during this process, outstanding debts and taxes are identified and paid. 

Probate is a complex process filled with very specific legal requirements.  Property cannot be distributed to beneficiaries until all these requirements are met.

The most common misunderstanding is that probate is not required if there is a Will.  When a person  dies with property in his or her sole name (no co-owner or beneficiary designation) there must be a probate – will  or no will.

Probate can take a long time.  I have handled probates that were open from 6 months to 3 years!

Probates are expensive.  Legal fees and costs can depend on the size of the estate or the time it takes to complete the process.  Even small estates can take a long time, depending on the circumstances.

Probate is a public process.  Every document filed with the court is a matter of public record.  Others can see how much the deceased left behind and how much each beneficiary received.

If you have concerns about the probate process, contact our office to learn how you can structure your assets to avoid this probate process.

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

Same-Sex Couples (unmarried) Are Legal Strangers

Unmarried same-sex couples need to protect themselves and their partners from interference by other people, including family members.  Here is a partial list of the areas in which unmarried same-sex couples are treated as legal strangers:

  • Burial or cremation
  • Claim to the body
  • Organ donation
  • Medical decisions regarding treatment and providers
  • Hospital and nursing home visitation
  • Child custody, support, and visitation
  • Wrongful death
  • Property division and support when relationship terminates
  • Inheritance

Also, Social Security and Veterans’ benefits are not payable to the survivor.  And most pension and retirement plans restrict survivor benefits to a “surviving spouse”.

If you are in unmarried same-sex partnership, it is essential to create a life and 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.

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 the second parent)
  • Wills
  • Trusts
  • Nomination of a 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.

 

TEN REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE A WILL

  1. Write a Will or the State of Florida will write one for you. With a Will, you choose your beneficiaries and dictate the terms of disbursement.
  2. Select the person who will handle your affairs.
  3. Create trust provisions for minor persons and young adults. Without a trust, a child can have full access to your assets at age 18, even if he or she is too immature to handle it.
  4. Nominate a guardian for your minor children.
  5. Preserve governmental benefits for a disabled person. You can set up a special needs trust under your Will.
  6. Protect an inheritance against divorce and lawsuits. Under a trust created under your Will, you can create a “spendthrift” provision.
  7. Protect your children’s inheritances from a second marriage. Under a trust created under your Will, you can limit your spouse’s inheritance so that when he or she dies, your children receive the remaining principal.
  8. Special instructions. You can leave burial and funeral instructions in your will and provide that a written list of personal property will be incorporated in your Will.
  9. Make a gift to charity. With a Will, you can leave some money to a favorite charity.
  10. Give yourself peace of mind. You will know that you put your affairs in order and your family will know that you cared enough to do so.

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.

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

[recaptcha theme:dark]