Florida has a large population of older residents, and remains a destination for individuals who have retired from lucrative professions. A significant number of these people either have a spouse who has died or have been divorced, and are contemplating getting married again.
The so-called "five W's" are generally associated with the field of journalism as a way to describe the minimum components necessary to write an informative story. However, using this idea in the estate planning realm can help individuals, including residents of Florida, to organize their thoughts when it comes to planning an estate to help minimize the potential for probate litigation.
Estate planning can encompass a wide variety of legal and financial issues, including the use of trusts, retirement income planning, powers of attorney and medical directives, to name a few. The oldest, and perhaps most fundamental, estate planning document is the last will and testament. Wills are a common device used to transfer property from the testator to heirs. The process generally used to act on a will's contents is the probate process. Because this process can be complicated, and varies from state to state, there are several issues with which individuals may need help.
All residents of Florida should think about what may happen in the event of their incapacity or death. Planning and having the appropriate legal documents to ensure that one's wishes are followed is something everyone should do. It is especially important for couples who, for whatever reason, do not have the legal protection of marriage.
While many people are aware that probate is something to be avoided, if possible, they do not necessarily know why. In Florida, there are several factors that make the probate process one that many people might wish not to experience.
Prior to 2010, people who were heirs in Florida had no real legal means to challenge the validity of a marriage after the death of the testator-spouse. Because, at common law, heirs did not have standing to object to the marriage in probate court, people who felt that the marriage had been instigated by fraud, or under duress, had no recourse if they were disinherited, or received less of the estate than they believed they should.
An out-of-state lawsuit has been filed by a woman who was removed as administrator of her husband's estate by the clerk of court there. It appears that the estate contained assets of property and bank accounts in Florida. The woman's husband died intestate, meaning without a will, in 2012. After his death the woman was granted letters of administration, and requested that all the probate assets be transferred to her as she and her son needed over $330,000 in immediate assistance from the probate court.
Wrangling over the probate estate of an apparently murdered lottery winner may give West Palm Beach residents a good illustration of why advance estate planning can be so critically important. Even as police continue to investigate the suspicious circumstances of the man's death, his widowed wife has had to battle through probate litigation on top of accusations of guilt from her deceased husband's siblings just to gain appointment as executor of her husband's estate.
West Palm Beach readers may take interest in the ongoing saga of Pamela Carvel, niece to the founders of the popular Carvel ice cream franchise, and a 17-year-long battle over the assets of the franchise founders. The founder and his wife executed identical wills that placed their assets in trust for the benefit of the surviving spouse. Upon the death of the surviving spouse, the wills directed that any residual assets be given to a charitable foundation established by the testators. According to the terms of the wills, the niece was designated to receive a one-time bequest of $20,000.
Readers in the West Palm Beach may remember Gary Coleman as the child star of the 1980s sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes." Now, two years after the actor's death, a recent court decision will have significant impact on how his estate will be administered. The litigation involved two different wills naming two different beneficiaries of the actor's probate assets.