LegalJourney Blog

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Day 2: Free Online Power of Attorney

Day 2: Free Online Power of Attorney1

The LegalJourney Law Firm will provide a free “Online Power of Attorney” for the first 4 individuals who sign up for a new online client account via the online legal services link on www.legaljourney.com.

To set up a free online account:

1.     Go to www.legaljourney.com;

2.     Select “Click Here For Online Legal Services”;

3.     Select “Register for a New Online Legal Services Account today!"

Create a user account and you will be notified within 24 hours if you will be a recipient of todays offer.

Everyone who connects with the LegalJourney Law Firm PLLC via the LegalJourney BlogLinkedInTwitterand/or Facebook during the month of May will receive 10% off any online legal service.

Florida Statute Section 709.2101 through 709.2402 (effective date October 1, 2011): Although still effective, everyone with a Power of Attorney (POA) created prior to October 1, 2011 should discuss his or her options with a knowledgeable estate-planning attorney. Issues have arisen in the past with financial institutions not accepting POAs or requiring their specific form to be signed. However, for POAs created under the new Statute, per section 709.2120, F.S., a third person is required to accept or reject a POA within a reasonable time and is not allowed to require an additional or a different POA for authority granted in the present POA. If the third person rejects a POA under the new Statute, they could be held liable for damages and attorney fees.

1This offer is available until close of business May 14th, 2013.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Day 1: Free Online Will

Day 1: Free Online Will1

The LegalJourney Law Firm will provide a free “Online Will” for the first 4 mothers who sign up for a new online client account via the online legal services link on www.legaljourney.com.

To set up a free online account:

1.     Go to www.legaljourney.com;

2.     Select “Click Here For Online Legal Services”;

3.     Select “Register for a New Online Legal Services Account today!"

Create a user account and you will be notified within 24 hours if you will be a recipient of todays offer.

Everyone who connects with the LegalJourney Law Firm PLLC via the LegalJourney BlogLinkedInTwitter, and/or Facebook during the month of May will receive 10% off any online legal service.

1This offer is available until close of business May 13th, 2013.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Happy Mother’s Day from the LegalJourney Law Firm PLLC!

This Mother’s Day, as a way of saying thank you, the LegalJourney Law Firm PLLC will be offering free and/or reduced estate planning for all mother’s and their loved ones during the week after Mother’s Day.

Each day beginning on May 13th 2013 through May 17th 2013, the LegalJourney Law Firm PLLC will post, via the LegalJourney BlogLinkedIn profile, Twitter account and Facebook page, daily opportunities to receive either a reduced price or a completely free legal service.

Every Mother who connects with the LegalJourney Law Firm PLLC via the LegalJourney BlogLinkedInTwitterand/or Facebook during the month of May will receive 10% off any online legal service.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

8 Reasons Young People Should Write a Last Will and Testament

Imagine if writing a last will and testament were a pre-requisite to graduating from high school.  The graduate walks across the stage, hands the completed will to the principal, and gets the diploma in return.   It might sound strange because most 18 year olds have little in terms of assets but it’s a good idea for all adults to draft a last will and testament.


Graduation from college is another good milestone to use as a reminder to create an estate plan.  If you haven’t created a will by the time you marry – or are living with a partner in a committed relationship – then it’s fair to say you are overdue.

Think you don’t need an estate plan because you’re broke?  Not true.  Here are eight excellent reasons for young people to complete a last will and testament.  And they have very little to do with money.

You are entering the military.  Anyone entering the military, at 18 or any other age, should make sure his or her affairs are in order.  Even for an 18-year-old, that means creating a will and other basic estate planning documents like a health care directive and powers of attorney.

You received an inheritance.  You may not think of the inheritance as your asset, especially if it is held in trust for you.  But, without an estate plan, the disposition of that money will be a slow and complicated process for your surviving family members.

You own an animal.  It is common for people to include plans for their pets in their wills.  If the unthinkable were to happen and you died unexpectedly, what would happen to your beloved pet?  Better to plan ahead for your animals in the event of your death.  You can even direct the sale of specific assets, with the proceeds going to your pet’s new guardian for upkeep expenses.

You want to protect your family from red tape.  If you die without a will, your family will have to take your “estate” (whatever money and possessions you have at the time of your death) through a long court process known as probate. If you had life insurance, for example, your family would not be able to access those funds until the probate process was complete.  A couple of basic estate planning documents can keep your estate out of the probate court and get your assets into the hands of your chosen beneficiaries much more quickly.

You have social media accounts.  Many people spend a great deal of time online, conversing with friends, storing important photos and documents and even managing finances. Without instructions from you, will your family know what to do with your Facebook account, your LinkedIn account, and so forth?

You want to give money or possessions to friends or charities.  When someone dies without a will, there are laws that dictate who will receive any assets.  These recipients will include immediate family members like parents, siblings, and a spouse.  If you want to give assets to friends or to a charity, you must protect your wishes with a will.

You care about what happens to you if you are in a coma or persistent vegetative state.  We all see the stories on the news – ugly fights within families over the prostrate bodies of critically ill children or siblings or spouses.  When you write your will, write a health care directive (also called a living will) and a financial power of attorney as well.  This is especially important if you have a life partner to whom you are not married so they can make decisions on your behalf

 

 


Thursday, May 2, 2013

National Elder Law Month - May

Attorney Karnardo Garnett of the LegalJourney Law Firm in Tampa will participate in National Elder Law Month by offering seminars and attending expos discussing the importance of planning.

With a growing population of Americans age 65 years or older, the importance of planning for one’s legal needs has become essential.

Attorney Garnett will be hosting or participating in the following events during the month of May:

  • 5/15 - University Village: Annual Health & Wellness Expo 12401 North 22nd St, Tampa 33612
  • 5/16 - Advanced Retirement Strategies and Asset Protection Workshop: Brio Tuscan Grille 2223 North Westshore Blvd Tampa, FL 33607 at 6:00pm 
  • 5/21 - Advanced Retirement Strategies and Asset Protection Workshop: Brio Tuscan Grille 2223 North Westshore Blvd Tampa, FL 33607 at 6:00pm 
  • 5/30 - Avoiding the Top Ten Estate Planning Mistakes: Grand Court 4902 Bayshore Blvd  Tampa, FL 33611 at 6:30pm

Attorney Garnett, a resident of Tampa since 1984, has practiced law for several years and focuses his practice on Estate Planning, Elder Law and Asset Protection.  Attorney Garnett is a member of the Florida State Bar Association and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).

 


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Think Treasure Hunts are Fun and Games? Think Again

You’ve had an attorney draft your estate planning documents, including your living trust and will. Probate avoidance and tax saving strategies have been implemented. Your documents are signed, notarized and witnessed in accordance with all applicable laws, and are stored in a location known to your chosen executor or estate administrator. Your work is done, right? Not exactly.


Although treasure hunts may be fun for youngsters, the fiduciaries of your estate will not find inventorying your assets to be nearly as exciting. When it comes time to settle your affairs, your estate representatives will be charged with the responsibility to gather and manage your assets, pay off debts and taxes, and distribute your assets to your named beneficiaries. This can be a tall order for an outsider who is likely unaware of the full scope of your assets.

If your fiduciaries cannot determine exactly what property you own, and its value and location, you are setting up your loved ones for a frustrating treasure hunt that can delay the settlement of your estate and rack up additional estate-related expenses. You may be remembered for the frustration of locating your assets, rather than the gifts made upon your death – not a legacy many wish to leave.

Instead, as you are establishing your estate plan take the extra time to record a comprehensive asset inventory and make sure those who will be responsible for settling your estate know where that inventory is stored. Do not presume that everything is handled once you meet with a lawyer and sign your documents. The legal instruments you have gone to the time, trouble and expense to prepare are practically worthless if your assets cannot be identified, located and transferred to your beneficiaries. However, creating a thoughtful asset inventory will aid your loved ones in closing your estate and honoring your memory.

Nobody knows better what assets you own than you. And who better than you to know an item’s value, age or location? Your fiduciaries may not have the benefit of tax or registration renewal notices for titled assets, and certainly won’t have copies of the titles or deeds – unless you provide them. It’s a good idea to include copies of the following items with your asset inventory:
 

 

  • Deeds to real property
  • Titles to personal property
  • Statements for bank, brokerage, credit card and retirement accounts
  • Stock certificates
  • Life insurance policy
  • Tax notices

For each of the above assets you should also list names and contact information for individuals who can assist with each the underlying assets, such as real estate attorneys, brokers, financial planners and accountants.

If your estate includes unique objects or valuable family heirlooms, a professional appraisal can help you plan your estate, and help your representatives settle your estate. If you have any property appraised, include a copy of the report with your asset inventory.

Care should be taken to continually update your asset inventory as things change. There will likely be many years between the time your estate plan is created and the day your fiduciaries must step in and settle your estate. Properties may be bought or sold, and these changes should be reflected in your asset inventory on an ongoing basis.
 


Friday, April 5, 2013

Congress' Drafting Error Denies Individuals with Disabilities a Fundamental Right

Law assumes a person with disabilities lacks the equality or mental capacity to enter into a contract.

By Michael J. Amoruso, Esq.

Have you ever witnessed the distress of dignity being stripped from a person simply due to a physical disability that prevents the person from entering a store because her or his wheelchair cannot go up a step that leads into the building?

All Citizens Deserve Dignity and Equality
With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Congress made a big leap forward in providing a means for individuals with disabilities to gain access and accommodations to give them the dignity and equality they deserve as citizens. Yet, even to this day, those of us with disabilities must continue to erase the historic, age-old stereotype that a person with a disability is a lesser individual than her or his able-bodied neighbor. Not a day goes by that my routine is not disrupted because I must advocate for my right to allow my Seeing Eye dog to guide me through the corridors of public buildings - and I am a lawyer. Can you imagine how difficult and demoralizing that would be for someone who doesn’t have the legal training and/or assertiveness that I possess?

You are probably wondering why I am sharing with you these daily challenges. Well, I have identified one inequity that can be fixed. Merely one year after the ADA went into effect, Congress made what appears to be a legislative drafting error that has the profound effect of codifying an unimaginable presumption in our country – the presumption that a person with disabilities lacks the equality or mental capacity to enter into a contract. We would not make that presumption about President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Ray Charles or our wounded veterans!

What Are Supplemental Needs Trusts?
Specifically, in 1993, Congress added a wonderful concept called a “Supplemental Needs Trust” to the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (OBRA 1993). This concept permits an individual with disabilities under age 65, who relies on Medicaid for health benefits and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to survive, to have a Supplemental Needs Trust (SNT) established to hold his or her savings.

The benefit of the SNT is that it allows this individual to have supplemental funds to pay for daily living items that such benefits do not cover, such as:

  • shampoo and other toiletries,
  • haircuts,
  • magazine subscriptions,
  • tickets to the movie theater,
  • clothing,
  • hobbies,
  • furniture for the home, and
  • computers.

These items can make the difference between simply existing and enjoying life. The SNT can also pay for health care not covered by Medicaid, such as experimental or alternative medical treatments. The funds put in the SNT are often provided by a loved one or from a legal settlement.

In order to qualify for Medicaid or SSI, a person must meet financial thresholds. The SNT hedges against the risk of complete impoverishment and the inability to meet what most of us consider to be basic living needs. In exchange for that protection, upon the disabled individual’s death, the state is reimbursed from the trust assets for Medicaid benefits paid to the individual during his or her lifetime. Following in the footsteps of the ADA, this concept has helped advance the quality of life and opportunities for those with disabilities.

There are various kinds of SNTs that disabled individuals can chose from, depending on a variety of factors, such as the disabled individual’s age and the amount of assets that will be placed into the trust. A (d)(4)(C) pooled trust is administered by a nonprofit organization, where each disabled individual has a separate subaccount within the trust and the trust assets are pooled together for investment and management purposes.  Unlike (d)(4)(C) pooled trusts, (d)(4)(A) trusts are not administered by a nonprofit organization but rather the trust is managed by a trustee, sometimes a family member, for the sole benefit of the disabled individual.

In addition to the provisions established by OBRA 1993, USC §1396p(d)(4)(A) further provides that, to have the benefit of the SNT, the trust must be established by a parent, grandparent, legal guardian of the individual, or a court. Let’s revisit that point: The SNT must be established by the parent, grandparent, legal guardian of the individual or a court. Now, can the reader identify who is missing from this list of eligible individuals? That’s correct …the individual. Evidence of this unfortunate oversight can be seen in the very next sentence of the statute that offers protections to a similar SNT known as a “pooled trust.” In particular, that provision authorizes the pooled trust to be established by the parent, grandparent, or legal guardian of such individuals, by such individuals, or by a court.

Denying a Basic Right
Aside from the mistaken presumption that such individuals lack capacity to establish their own SNT, this omission results in inequitable and unnecessary legal costs and time for the individual with disabilities. Imagine the impact on a person who does not have the luxury of a living parent or grandparent and does not lack mental capacity that requires the appointment of a legal guardian. That person’s sole option is to hire a lawyer to petition the court to exercise a fundamental right that the person is born with in our country. Depending on one’s geographic location, this cost could range from $1,500 to more than $6,000.

This dilemma was recently experienced by a 62-year-old client of mine who was the victim of medical malpractice, which rendered her paralyzed and confined to a nursing home that charges over $100,000 per year for her care. She not only has the mental capacity to direct her care in the facility, but she also was the star witness in her lawsuit, testifying in court as to her ordeal. When it came time to set up her SNT, I had to inform her that she could not simply sign the SNT, but instead, since she did not have a parent, grandparent, or legal guardian, she had to petition the court to authorize it. My words cannot convey the shock on her face. My words also cannot convey the shock on the faces of the legislative assistants in Congress when I informed them that I, a blind and moderately deaf attorney who has drafted thousands of SNTs for clients, would not even be able to sign my own SNT in the future.

Congress Must Act
NAELA is working to change this injustice. NAELA will join forces with the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations and theConsortium for Citizens with Disabilities in lobbying efforts, as well as individual members of these coalitions. NAELA members are also taking individual action by calling on their Congressional Representatives and Senators to make this justified and cost neutral change to USC §1396p(d)(4)(A) to insert the phrase by such individuals so that those of us who have disabilities can regain the dignity we deserve and remove the misplaced presumption that we lack capacity due to our disabilities.


About the Author
Michael J. Amoruso, Esq., is managing partner of Amoruso & Amoruso, LLP, Rye Brook, N.Y. He is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys Board of Directors. Mr. Amoruso has had hearing loss since he was young. As a young adult, he learned he was going blind. When he was a newly admitted attorney, one of his first assignments was to draft a Supplemental Needs Trust. This experience helped him decide to focus on Elder and Special Needs Law.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Free Online Seminar: Estate Planning 101

Estate Planning 101 will cover the basics of Estate Planning in Florida, including but not limited to:

•    Estate planning terminology;

•    What happens when you die in Florida with/without an estate plan; 

•    Common mistakes made; and

•    The five documents that everyone should have.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Will or Won’t? Things a Will Won’t (or Can’t) Do

Wills offer many benefits and are an important part of any estate plan, regardless of how much property you have. Your will can ensure that after death your property will be given to the loved ones you designate. If you have children, a will is necessary to designate a guardian for them. Without a will, the courts and probate laws will decide who inherits your property and who cares for your children. But there are certain things a will cannot accomplish.


A will has no effect on the distribution of certain types of property after your death. For example, if you own property in joint tenancy with another co-owner, your share of that property will automatically belong to the surviving joint tenant. Any contrary will provision would only be effective if all joint tenants died at the same time.

If you have named a beneficiary on your life insurance policy, those proceeds will not be subject to the terms of a will and will pass directly to your named beneficiary. Similarly, if you have named a beneficiary on your retirement accounts, including pension plans, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plans, the money will be distributed directly to that named beneficiary when you pass on, regardless of any will provisions.

Brokerage accounts, including stocks and bonds, in which you have named a transfer-on-death (TOD) beneficiary will be transferred directly to the named beneficiary. Vehicles may also be titled with a TOD beneficiary, and would therefore transfer to your beneficiary, regardless of any provisions contained in your will. Similar to TODs, bank accounts may have a pay-on-death beneficiary named.

The will’s shortcomings are not limited to matters of inheritance. Generally, wills are not as well suited as trusts for putting conditions on a gift such as requiring someone to get married or divorced, or obtain a certain education level, as a prerequisite to inheriting a portion of your estate. A simple will cannot reduce estate taxes the way some kinds of trust plans can.

A trust, not a will, is also necessary to arrange for care for a beneficiary who has special needs. A will cannot provide for long-term care arrangements for a loved one. However, a special needs trust can provide financial support for a disabled beneficiary, without risking government disability benefits.

If you want to leave your estate to Fido, you’re out of luck in many states. Without a special pet trust, your will may not be able to provide for pets to inherit your assets. You can use your will to leave your pet to someone, and then leave money to that person in trust to help take care of your pet.

A will cannot help you avoid probate. Assets left through a will generally must be transferred through a court-supervised probate proceeding, which can take months, or longer, at significant expense to your estate. If it’s probate you want to avoid, consider establishing a living trust to hold your significant assets.

 

 


Friday, March 15, 2013

Should you withdraw your Social Security benefits early?

You don’t have to be retired to dip into your Social Security benefits which are available to you as early as age 62.  But is the early withdrawal worth the costs?

A quick visit to the U.S. Social Security Administration Retirement Planner website can help you figure out just how much money you’ll receive if you withdraw early. The benefits you will collect before reaching the full retirement age of 66 will be less than your full potential amount.

The reduction of benefits in early withdrawal is based upon the amount of time you currently are from full retirement age. If you withdraw at the earliest point of age 62, you will receive 25% less than your full benefits.  If you were born after 1960, that amount is 30%. At 63, the reduction is around 20%, and it continues to decrease as you approach the age of 66.

Withdrawing early also presents a risk if you think there is a chance you may go back to work. Excess earnings may be cause for the Social Security Administration to withhold some benefits. Though a special rule is in existence that withholding cannot be applied for one year during retired months, regardless of yearly earnings, extended working periods can result in decreased benefits. The withheld benefits, however, will be taken into consideration and recalculated once you reach full retirement age.

If you are considering withdrawing early from your retirement accounts, it is important to consider both age and your particular benefits. If you are unsure of how much you will receive, you can look to your yearly statement from Social Security. Social Security Statements are sent out to everyone over the age of 25 once a year, and should come in the mail about three months before your birthday. You can also request a copy of the form by phone or the web, or calculate your benefits yourself through programs that are available online at www.ssa.gov/retire.

The more you know about your benefits, the easier it will be to make a well-educated decision about when to withdraw. If you can afford to, it’s often worth it to wait. Ideally, if you have enough savings from other sources of income to put off withdrawing until after age 66, you will be rewarded with your full eligible benefits.
 


Monday, March 4, 2013

What is Estate Tax Portability and How Does it Affect Me?

At the end of 2012, the entire country watched as major changes were made to income tax  laws with the adoption of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA). The act also made significant changes in estate tax laws.

Estate Tax Portability

One important change is that the estate tax portability law is now permanent.  Estate tax portability means that the unused portion of the first-to-die spouse’s estate tax exemption passes to the surviving spouse.  The current estate tax exemption is $5.25 million ($5 million with adjustments for inflation).  This means that a married couple’s total estate tax exemption is currently $10.5 million.  For example, a husband dies with $2 million in separate assets.  He has $3.25 million remaining in his estate tax exemption, which passes to his wife, giving her a total of $7.5 million in estate tax exemption.  Without portability, the husband’s remaining exemption might have been forfeited if the couple had not implemented special tax planning techniques as part of their estate plans.

How Do You Claim the Portability?

This is where married couples and estate executors can get into trouble.  The estate tax portability rule is not automatic.  In order to claim the remainder of the first-to-die spouse’s estate tax exemption, the surviving spouse or the deceased spouse’s estate executor must file an estate tax return soon after the death, usually within nine months.

If this filing deadline is missed, then the couple will not get the benefit of estate tax portability.  Missing the estate tax filing deadline can result in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary and avoidable estate taxes.

In a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, estate planning experts expressed concern that executors of small estates may be unaware of the estate tax return filing requirement and may believe that an estate tax return is unnecessary if the deceased spouse’s assets fall under the $5.25 million exemption amount. To preserve portability, however, the estate tax return must be filed after the first spouse’s death.  Alternatively, married couples can utilize a special trust, referred to as a “credit shelter trust” or “bypass trust” to prevent forfeiture of their individual exemptions.  This planning technique must be undertaken when both spouses are still alive.

The Consequences of Failing to File an Estate Tax Return

As a simple example, consider a husband and wife who have a total of $7.5 million in assets, $6 million in a business the husband owns and the remaining $1.5 million owned by the wife.  Upon the wife’s death, the estate’s executor files a timely estate tax return and the wife’s remaining $3.75 million in estate tax exemptions passes to the husband.  When the husband dies, his entire $6 million business passes to his heirs tax free, even though his personal estate tax exemption is only $5.25 million.  If portability is not claimed, then $1 million of the husband’s business will be taxed (the current rate is 40 percent).  The husband’s heirs would be required to pay approximately $400,000 in estate taxes which could have been avoided if the wife’s estate executor had filed an estate tax return within the time limit.

Even if both spouses together have assets under the current $5.25 million exemption, it is still a good idea to file an estate tax return after the death of the first spouse.  Filing the estate tax return and preserving the portability benefit protects the surviving spouse’s heirs in the event the surviving spouse receives a windfall during his or her lifetime that raises his or her assets above the $5.25 million exemption level.

 

 


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Attorney Karnardo Garnett represents clients with their Estate Planning, Elder Law and Asset Protection needs throughout the Tampa Bay Area, serving all of the bay area, including but not limited to Tampa, Brandon, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Gibsonton, Riverview, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor, Hillsborough County, and Pinellas County, FL



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