surviving spouse

Serving Southwest Florida

Helping clients plan for their family's future, by creating an efficient, thoughtful and comprehensive estate plan that preserves their legacy and gives them peace of mind.

Homestead and Revocable Trusts

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the issue of homestead and Revocable Trusts. Some clients have said that they have been told that you cannot transfer homestead into a Revocable Trust. If this were the case, a major asset of most people’s estates would be left vulnerable to probate.  My website, Estate Planning in Florida addresses this issue.

In order to fully address this issue, we have to delve into the complexities of the Florida homestead law. The law regarding Florida homestead is set forth in the state constitution as well as various sections of the Florida Statutes. It cover three distinct areas.

The first area, which most people are familiar with, concerns the exemption from property tax of the first $25,000 in value, and the exemption from property taxes (except school taxes) the third $25,000 in value.

The second aspect involves the exemption of homestead from the claims of creditors.

The third area is what we will be discussing in this article. It deals with what happens to homestead property when its owner dies. The restrictions contained in this part of the law deal only with married persons or persons with minor children. If you are a single person without minor children, there are no restrictions and you may transfer your homestead to your Revocable Trust without any adverse consequences.

However, if you are married, Florida law regarding homestead and revocable trusts states that your homestead may not be devised if the you are survived by a spouse, unless it is devised to that spouse.  A devise is a distribution of property pursuant to a Will or Trust.

If a married person tries to leave his interest in the homestead to someone other than his spouse, that transfer would, under the law, be void. Instead, the law says that in this case, the spouse would receive a life estate in the property and at the spouse’s death the homestead would pass to the lineal descendants of the person who died first.

As you can guess, this creates huge title problems for the surviving spouse. She would not be able to sell the homestead or put a mortgage on it without the consent of the deceased spouse’s lineal descendants.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with my homestead and Revocable Trust? Some attorneys and title examiners believe that leaving the property in joint trust after the death of one spouse is different from leaving it directly to the spouse, as required by the homestead law. They contend that this causes the ugly life estate scenario and that any future transactions will require consent of the lineal descendants.

Because of this, I structure your Trust to distribute the deceased spouse’s share of the homestead directly to the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse would then deed that interest back into the Trust. In this way we comply with the homestead law and avoid probate.

One exception to titling your homestead into the Revocable Trust is when you have minor children. In this situation the law states, “the homestead shall not be subject to devise if the owner is survived by a spouse or minor child, except that the homestead may be devised to the owner’s spouse if there is no minor child.”  If a person dies leaving a minor child and tries to devise the homestead to his spouse, the spouse would only get a life estate and the property will pass to the deceased spouse’s lineal descendants upon the death of the second spouse.

Because property owned by husband and wife as tenants by the entireties is exempt from this provision, the property should not be put into the Trust if you have minor children.  Instead it should be titled in you and your spouse as husband and wife.  This will provide a right of survivorship upon the first spouse’s death.

Let us help you plan your estate.

Estate Planning for Blended Families

If two adult children in a blended family receive a lot more financial help from their parent and stepparents than other children, there may be expectations that the parent’s estate plan will be structured to address any unequal distributions. This unique circumstance requires a unique solution, as explained in the article “Estate Planning: A Trust Can Be Used to Protect Blended Families” from The Daily Sentinel. Families in which adult children and stepchildren have grandchildren also require unique estate planning for blended families.

Blended families face the question of what happens if one parent dies and the surviving step parent remarries. If the deceased spouse’s estate was given to the surviving step parent, will those assets be used to benefit the deceased spouse’s children, or will the new spouse and their children be the sole beneficiaries?

In a perfect world, all children would be treated equally, and assets would flow to the right heirs.  However, that does not always happen. There are many cases where the best of intentions is clear to all, but the death of the first spouse in a blended marriage change everything.

Other events occur that change how the deceased’s estate in a blended family is distributed. If the surviving step-spouse suffers from Alzheimer’s or experiences another serious disease, their judgement may become impaired.

All of these are risks that can be avoided, if proper estate planning is done by both parents while they are still well and living. Chief among these is a trust,  a simple will does not provide the level of control of assets needed in this situation. Don’t leave this to chance—there’s no way to know how things will work out.

A trust can be created, so the spouse will have access to assets while they are living. When they pass, the remainder of the trust can be distributed to the children.

If a family that has helped out two children more than others, as mentioned above, the relationships between the siblings that took time to establish need to be addressed, while the parents are still living. This can be done with a gifting strategy, where children who felt their needs were being overlooked may receive gifts of any size that might be appropriate, to stem any feelings of resentment.

That is not to say that parents need to use their estate to satisfy their children’s expectations. However, in the case of the blended family above, it is a reasonable solution for that particular family and their dynamics.

A good estate plan for blended families addresses the parent’s needs and takes the children’s needs into consideration. Every parent needs to address their children’s unique needs and be able to distinguish their needs from wants. A gifting strategy, trusts and other estate planning tools can be explored in a consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney, who creates estate plans specific to the unique needs of each family.  We can help you address these issues in your estate plan.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (Dec. 16, 2020) “Estate Planning: A Trust Can Be Used to Protect Blended Families”

 

What Needs to Happen after a Spouse Dies?

Making funeral arrangements, paying medical bills and closing down accounts are just the start of the tasks that a surviving spouse must take charge of, advises the recent article “Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse” from U.S. News & World Report. It can be overwhelming, especially with the intense emotions that come with such a large loss.

Having a checklist of specific tasks may make this difficult time less stressful. This is because you will be able to see what has been accomplished, and what is yet to come.

Start by getting organized. Make a list of what you need to do and add to it as you think of new tasks. You should also track what you are doing, using a notebook to keep a record of who you spoke with and when. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask a family member or trusted friend. Being organized is a big help, when there are so many things that need to be done during such a hard time.

Review your spouse’s will and estate plan. Gather all the documents, from their last will and testament to insurance policies, trust paperwork and related documents. Call your estate planning attorney, since she can help you with settling the estate.

Identify the personal representative. If you are the personal representative, then you are the person in charge of managing the estate, including distributing assets. If someone else has been named, contact the person and be sure they are still willing and able to undertake the responsibilities.

Obtain original death certificates. All of the financial, legal and property matters will require an original death certificate, with a raised seal. It’s easier to have more than you need, so order ten to fifteen.

Talk with other professionals. The financial advisor, CP, and insurance broker, in addition to the estate planning attorney, will need to know that your spouse has passed. You will also need to notify the Social Security Administration. If your spouse was receiving benefits, depending upon when in the month they died, you may need to return money.

Avoid any big decisions. This is not the time to sell the house, move to another state or make any other large decisions, unless you must for financial reasons.

Carry out your spouse’s wishes. There is comfort in carrying out your loved one’s wishes. Giving money to a charity as per the will’s direction or handing a prized possession to a family member who will treasure it can be heartwarming, since it reminds you of the values that your spouse held dear.

Take time for yourself and your loved ones. Mourning and healing from loss are not easy times. Take the time to process the loss and grieve with other family members. Find comfort from those you love.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Aug. 28, 2020) “Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse”

Suggested Key Terms: Funeral Arrangements, Surviving Spouse, Executor, Estate Planning Attorney, Social Security, Mourning, Trusts, Last Will and Testament