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Common Questions About Florida Law

It is natural to have many questions and worries when faced with a legal issue or litigation. The experienced lawyers at DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis, P.A., ask many common legal questions and provide useful answers to help get you in making the best decisions for you and your family.

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  • Can I receive damages for pain and suffering after a Florida car crash?

    Florida car accident with pain and suffering injuriesUnder the state’s injury laws, Florida victims may be awarded payment for their medical bills as part of their economic losses. However, this isn't what is meant by “pain and suffering.”

    Pain and suffering is the legal term for an additional amount of damages that are paid on top of medical and disability costs, and it's up to a jury to decide how much should be awarded in each case.

    When Can Florida Victims Be Compensated for Pain and Suffering?

    Florida has rules regarding who may and may not be awarded pain and suffering damages in an injury case. As Florida is a no-fault insurance state, drivers are required to file claims with their insurers to collect the costs of an accident, regardless of who caused the crash. If these claims aren't sufficient to cover the costs of injury, an accident victim may sue the at-fault driver or another negligent party whose actions led to the injury.

    Under Florida law, victims who seek pain and suffering damages in car accident cases must meet the state’s “injury threshold.” Simply put, in Florida, if you have been in a car accident, you cannot sue for pain and suffering damages unless the crash has resulted in one or more of the following:

    • Significant loss of ability to perform a necessary bodily function
    • Permanent injury or a permanent aggravation of a pre-existing condition
    • Significant and irreversible scarring or disfigurement
    • Death

    Types of Pain and Suffering Damages That Can Be Recovered After a Crash

    Victims may be awarded two kinds of damages in car accident cases: economic damages and non-economic damages.

    Economic losses are costs that can be totaled, such as medical bills and lost wages. Pain and suffering awards are a form of non-economic damages, and aren't easy to quantify. Depending on the degree and severity of the injury, the extent of medical treatment, and the impact of the accident on the victim’s life, non-economic damages may range from a few thousand to several million dollars.

    Pain and suffering damages may be awarded to compensate a victim for:

    • Physical suffering. This is meant to compensate a victim for the trauma at the time of the injury; the pain throughout the recovery process; and any discomfort he or she will suffer in the future.
    • Mental anguish. Victims suffer a wide range of psychological effects after an accident. The stress of paying medical bills, the fear and embarrassment of living with physical restrictions, the anger of having to deal with a new problem every day, anxiety and depression throughout recovery, and lingering symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can all qualify as emotional pain and suffering.
    • Other non-economic loss. Accident victims may sue for the injustice of the accident and inconvenience of having portions of their lives taken away. Common effects of a sudden and traumatic crash include disability, loss of fertility, loss of a family member, and lost enjoyment of life.

    A jury has to consider many different factors to determine how much should be paid to an accident victim for his or her suffering. Two people injured in the same crash can be awarded vastly different amounts, depending on their personal circumstances.

    For example, a victim who is retired to a wheelchair after the crash, may be awarded a significant sum, if he or she was very active before the accident. On the other hand, a victim who had suffered a pre-existing injury to the same part of the body, may see a reduced award, unless his or her attorney can prove that the damage from the accident played a significant role in her suffering.

    We Help Minimize the Difficulties

    At DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis, P.A., we can examine all of the details of your case to maximize the amount of your pain and suffering award. We'll carefully review the change in your activities, career path, medical treatments, family situation, and future prospects, securing the rightful compensation fo you, to put the accident behind you. And we don't collect any fees until your case is won.

    Simply fill out the quick contact form on this page to set up your consultation.

     

  • Why use an attorney to change your estate planning documents?

    You should use an attorney to change or amend your estate planning documents (last will and testament, power of attorney, revocable living trust) because you want to be able to rely upon these documents upon your death or incapacity.

    First, you should go to an attorney to create your estate plan because only an experienced estate planning attorney can apply your specific situation to the facts. No on-line form can give you advice based upon your own situation. We generally think that estate planning is much more than just "document preparation." While some familial situations may be simple, we want to make sure the documentation, goals and assets all align, and an estate planning attorney is the best person to make this happen.

    Next, changes to the documents must all be done with care and should be done with an attorney as well. Any changes to your documents must be made in the same way your original documents were created. This typically means witnessing and notarizing the changes, among other matters. You do not know what you do not know.

    True Story: We created a last will and testament for a client who left money to his girlfriend. Before he died, he crossed his girlfriend off the will and initialed the change. When he died, the change he made had no legal effect - his ex-girlfriend inherited the money from the will.

    Another True Story: I received a frantic phone call from a daughter. Her father just had a stroke. The father created a living trust through an on-line company only months before, but he did not even create a last will and testament, durable power of attorney or other incapacity documents. Dad died shortly after our conversation and we are probating his assets, among other matters, while dad could have just gone to see an attorney and saved his family a lot of grief, heartache and money with going to a good attorney for his estate plan.

    This is the point - your life, your family, your wishes are all too important to leave to chance, so you should see an attorney to help make sure your wishes are followed. Estate planning is difficult enough as there are many things that can go wrong, but leaving things to chance and not seeking professional advice in order to save money just should not be a priority.  Your end-of-life wishes, and your family, are just too important to take the cheap way out to avoid attorneys.

    Want to learn more about creating a good estate plan?

    Come to one of my free monthly seminars to learn more!  Follow this link to learn more and register to attend our no-obligation seminar.

    Download my Free Book!

    Besides my free monthly seminar, I also wrote a book, the Top 20 Ways to Protect Your Florida Estate. Download your free copy today!

  • What do I have to prove to get compensation for a pedestrian accident in Florida?

    ped_crossingIt may seem relatively straightforward who is at fault in a pedestrian accident. The driver of a car travels much faster and is far less likely to be injured in a crash, so there's often no question in the victim’s mind that the driver of the car will be seen as responsible for the accident.

    Unfortunately, these injury claims are rarely open-and-shut cases that offer quick compensation to pedestrians.

    In order to get payment for medical bills and lost income, pedestrians are required to prove that someone else’s actions directly led to their injuries and losses.

    What Injured Pedestrians Have to Prove to Recover Damages

    In all injury cases, the victim is responsible for providing clear evidence of negligence. Negligence is a legal term that describes an action that a reasonable person in a similar situation wouldn't have done. If someone's negligence caused or contributed to an accident, he or she can be held liable for the costs.

    The injury victim must prove four elements to legally establish negligence in a pedestrian crash case:

    • The person at fault owed the victim a duty of care. This tenant of an injury case establishes that the negligent party was responsible for acting as safely as possible under the circumstances. If the person at fault is a driver, proof of this duty is contained in state traffic laws that require drivers to be capable and alert at all times.
    • The person at fault breached the duty of care. Many actions that fail to uphold the duty of care constitutes negligence, such as driving distracted, speeding, ignoring traffic signs or signals, and driving while intoxicated.
    • The at-fault party’s negligence caused the victim’s injuries. Negligence in itself isn't enough to win a claim. The breach of care must have directly led to the injuries the pedestrian suffered. For example, texting at the time of the crash may be a direct cause, but sending a text three minutes before the accident is likely not a cause of the crash.
    • The victim suffered actual harm. Victims must provide evidence of the economic losses they suffered as a result of their injuries, such as financial hardship, increased medical bills, permanent disability, and other costs.

    Who Should Be Held Liable for a Pedestrian’s Injuries?

    The legal process for proving negligence can go a long way to determining who's at fault for the accident. In the majority of cases, pedestrians file injury claims against the driver of the car that struck them. However, there are many other parties who could have played a role in the accident, including:

    • The local municipality. In some cases, a city government may share responsibility for a crash. Public entities may be liable for accidents involving poorly-placed crosswalks, malfunctioning traffic control devices, ineffective sidewalk or parking lot maintenance, and other safety hazards.
    • A product manufacturer. You may be able to file a product liability claim if a malfunctioning device caused you to veer into the path of oncoming traffic, such as a scooter or skateboard.
    • Insurance companies. Victims often rely on their insurance providers to pay for medical bills after a pedestrian accident. As Florida is a no-fault insurance state, the pedestrian may exhaust his or her policy and pursue a claim on the driver’s insurance policy. These claims are often met with resistance, and may require a lawsuit to get proper compensation.
    • Another person or entity. A pedestrian usually doesn't have a right to enter the street outside of a crosswalk. If someone was struck because he or she couldn't use the crosswalk, the case may name additional parties that made safe sidewalk travel impossible. For example, you may take action against a driver or passing cyclist that forced you off the curb, a restaurant owner whose tables blocked the sidewalk and forced you to walk in the road, or a construction company that didn't reroute pedestrian traffic during road repairs.
    • The pedestrian. Pedestrians who contribute in some way to their injuries may be assigned a portion of negligence. In Florida, victims can share negligence and still win the injury case, but their damages will be reduced by their percentage of blame for the crash.

    If you're struggling after a pedestrian accident, we can help you get the justice and compensation you deserve—and we don't collect any fees until your case is won. Simply fill out the quick contact form on this page to set up your consultation with an attorney.

     

  • Are my out-of-state estate planning documents good in Florida?

    If you just moved to Florida and have estate planning documents done in another state, the documents themselves may be valid, but you would want to have a Florida attorney review the documents to make sure.

    Florida law says that if your estate planning document was valid in your original state, it will be valid in Florida. This is due to the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution. So your existing document is "valid", but will it be as "good" as it should be?  Mileage will vary, but your out-of-state estate planning documents could likely be updated to make sure:

    • Applicable Homestead laws are correct - these rules are very Florida specific
    • Durable powers of attorney are very state specific, so it should likely be updated. If you became incapacitated, you would not want to rely upon an out-of-state power of attorney, under most circumstances
    • Advance directives (your health care surrogate and living will) are fairly state specific, so they would likely need updating
    • Revocable living trusts are generally interpreted according to their state of origin, so it would likely need to be changed to correspond with Florida law

    One of the first things we think about is that most of the time, most of us procrastinate making changes to estate planning documents, so it is likely that your estate planning documents are old and need to be updated, regardless.

    The point to all of this is that your documents are likely valid, but a good estate planning/elder law attorney should review them to make sure you and your family should rely upon them.

    If you want to learn more about your Florida estate plan, you are welcome to download our free book on Florida estate planning.

    If you live in the area, we invite you to attend one of our free monthly seminars on estate planning.

  • What Should You Do When Making a Hurricane Damage Claim Under Your Insurance Policy?

    Document all the damage to your property with pictures and video. Preserve any items of personal property that have been damaged so they are available for inspection by the insurance adjuster. Don’t throw out the damaged property. Report the claim to your insurance company by phone and in writing. Keep a log of all your phone calls with your insurance company and save all your written communications (letters and emails). Keeping accurate records of your contacts with the insurance company will be very helpful if there is a dispute later.

    What Should You do if Your Insurance Company Either Isn’t Responding or Has Made a Low Offer?

    Hurricane and flood damaged houseIf you are not getting a response, give your insurance company a deadline, in writing, to respond. Tell them that if they do not respond by the deadline, you will hire an attorney. If they do respond and they give you a low offer, get additional estimates to repair or replace your property so you are prepared to support your damage claim. Never accept the first offer from your insurance company. You will get your best offer through negotiations.

    How Can We Help?

    Call us immediately if you are not satisfied with the response from your insurance company. We can discuss your options. We may be able to take your case on a contingency fee. This means that we would collect our fees and costs from your insurance company and you don’t have to pay them out of your pocket. We are here to help you, so don’t hesitate to call us.

  • What should I do if I was hit while walking and the driver took off?

    walker_in_floridaFlorida is one of the most beautiful places to walk and bike in the nation. While pedestrians can enjoy the health benefits of traveling without a vehicle year-round, they are also at particular risk of hit and run accidents. Thousands of people are struck and injured every year by drivers who speed away, leaving the victim to pay for his injury costs.

    Steps to Take if You Were Hit by a Car While Walking in Florida

    Any accident that involves a driver failing to stop after striking someone else can be considered a hit and run collision. Cars may collide with pedestrians, and also people traveling on scooters, bicycles, skateboards, or other modes of non-vehicular transport.

    Unfortunately, Florida sidewalks are often built close to the roadway, placing pedestrians at risk of accidents when they are next to the road as well as in crosswalks.

    If you or someone you love is struck by a car while walking, it's vital you do the following as soon as possible:

    • Report the crime to the police. Florida law carries high penalties for offenders in hit and run injury cases. A driver who leaves the scene of an accident, and has caused an injury, may be charged with a felony, face jail time, heavy fines. The sooner the collision is reported, the better chance a police officer will tracking down the driver—improving the odds of getting compensation for your injuries.
    • Get medical attention. Don’t take the risk of going home after the accident: go to the hospital immediately. Even at low speeds, a pedestrian accident can result in significant physical, financial, and emotional losses. Adults may suffer broken bones or head injuries that cause them to lose months away from work, while accidents involving children or the elderly may result in permanent disability or death.
    • Speak with an accident lawyer. The best way for victims and their families to get compensation after these kinds of accidents is to speak with a personal injury attorney. In order to prove your case, you will need to gather evidence, give statements, and total your medical costs and financial losses accurately. We can examine the circumstances of the crash, tell you what to expect in your case, and work to protect your rights as you take the time you need to heal.

    Ways to Pay for Medical Costs After a Pedestrian Accident

    If the driver who struck you is never found, there are still many payment options available to you. Other ways to get compensation after a pedestrian accident in Florida include:

    • The Crimes Compensation Trust Fund. This fund is paid to victims of crimes, or their survivors, who are struggling financially after an injury. In order to be eligible, victims must have reported the crime to police within 72 hours of the event. Individuals must also apply to the Florida Bureau of Victim Compensation within one year of the accident.
    • Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. Victims of pedestrian accidents may claim compensation from their auto insurance, even if they weren't driving at the time of the crash. While all Florida drivers are required to carry PIP insurance, the coverage usually only provides up to $10,000, which may not be enough to cover the costs of a pedestrian’s injuries.
    • Uninsured motorist insurance. Drivers who have selected uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage as part of their auto policies can get additional compensation if they are struck while walking.

    As the options for compensation in these cases will vary depending on the individual circumstances, it's a good idea to meet with an attorney after a hit and run pedestrian accident. Your lawyer can go through your various insurance policies to determine the best way to get maximum coverage for your injury costs.

    Our law firm works on a contingency-fee basis, so we do not collect any fees until your case is won. Simply fill out the quick contact form on this page to set up your consultation with an attorney. 

     

  • Does Florida Have a Small Estate Affidavit Process?

    The general answer is no, or at least not in the way that is helpful to most families.

    We usually get this question when someone dies without a beneficiary of a life insurance policy, IRA or 401K. When the family is trying to claim these funds upon the death of a loved one, the financial company may send a claim form with a statement about a "small estate affidavit" that would be necessary in order for the family to receive the assets. Unfortunately, Florida does not have a small estate affidavit process, with one exception, which means the family will more than likely need to consult a probate attorney to help gain control of the assets. 

    In order for the family/heirs to take control of a decedent's probate assets, Florida generally has three types of probate to discuss:

    • Formal Probate Administration: Full blown probate, going to court, need an attorney, generally used under most probates, taking 6-9 months under most circumstances.
    • Summary Probate:  Reserved for estates under $75,000 in very simple estates.  An attorney is advised in these situations due to complexity. A court order is also done.
    • Disposition without Administration:Used in very specific situations, typically where the decedent's funeral expenses are unpaid. Here, the family can go to the local probate court and file an Petition to release funds held in a bank (typically) so that the petitioner can be reimbursed for paying the decedent's funeral bill. An example of the Disposition without Administration is as follows:

    Mom died with a bank account of $3,000 in her own, individual name. The bank will not give the family access to this bank account. The decedent's son paid for mom's funeral expenses of $4,000 out of his own pocket.  With the proper petition to the court, the court will order the bank to pay the $3,000 to the son to reimburse him for paying the funeral bill.  Here is Pinellas County's petition.

    In all three types of Florida probate, the court process is involved - some probates processes are easier than others. But there is no form or affidavit in Florida that an heir can sign that will give that heir legal rights to estate assets - only the Court can sign an order to this effect.

    To learn more about the difference between the disposition without administration/summary administration, I have written more on the types of Probate in Florida that would be helpful if you cannot get control of an assets upon someone's death. This may or may not mean you need to hire an attorney upon the death of your loved one.

    If your loved one has passed and you are trying to access their assets, our free guide to Navigating the Florida Probate Process will be very helpful. This guide reviews the Florida probate process from start to finish.

    If you asked this, you may want to know:

  • Does Florida Have a Minimum Amount Needed for Probate?

    No.

    When someone dies in Florida, how do we know if probate will be necessary? The answer is if someone had an asset in their own, individual name. The size of the asset does not matter for Florida purposes, just the titling. So if the decedent dies with a bank account worth only $2,000 in their own name, the family/heirs will need some type of help from probate and the court system. Depending on the size of the estate, the probate process differs greatly.  Florida generally has three probate processes to consider:

    Example: Mom dies with $2,000 in a bank account in her own name. The bank will not let anyone access the funds and tells people they need to get "letters from the court." If someone paid for mom's funeral out of their own pocket, that person can go to the Clerk of Court where mom passed and get a court order directing the bank to pay them the $2,000.

    • Summary Administration: This is a more simple probate process that is available only when:
      • the probate assets are worth less than $75,000;
      • all the heirs consent to the petition;
      • all of the decedent's bills are paid (a big issue with summary administrations); and
      • all of the decedent's assets are known (if something else is found in the future, you have to go back to court again!)

    With a summary administration, the family does not need an attorney to do the filing BUT the process is difficult and an attorney would likely be necessary. We help people all the time after they file their summary paperwork and the court does not allow it due to deficiencies.

    • Formal Probate Administration: This is the full probate process of appointing the personal representative, dealing with creditors, publishing in the newspaper, etc. This is done when assets exceed $75,000, the estate has debts, heirs do not agree, there are unknown assets, and more.

    If your loved one has recently passed and your family is looking to probate an asset, please download our free guide on Navigating the Florida Probate Process to learn more.

  • What is a Health Care Proxy and how is it Different from a Health Care Surrogate?

    A health care proxy is used in Florida when someone is incapacitated and has not created a designation of health care surrogate or the designated surrogate is unable or unwilling to act. The health care proxy statute provides the legal ability for the family and others to take over someone's health decisions if the incapacitated person is unable to make health care decisions themselves. When an estate planning attorney (like us) helps with incapacity planning, we always do the appropriate advance directives, which includes the living will and health care surrogate designation. If someone fails to correctly plan ahead for their incapacity, the Florida proxy law provides an orderly determination for who will make the incapacitated person's health care decisions.

    The Florida Health Care Proxy statute provides the order of people who can make decisions for the incapacitated person who does not have a capable health care surrogate as follows:

    (a) The judicially appointed guardian of the patient or the guardian advocate of the person having a developmental disability as defined in s. 393.063, who has been authorized to consent to medical treatment, if such guardian has previously been appointed; however, this paragraph shall not be construed to require such appointment before a treatment decision can be made under this subsection;
    (b) The patient’s spouse;
    (c) An adult child of the patient, or if the patient has more than one adult child, a majority of the adult children who are reasonably available for consultation;
    (d) A parent of the patient;
    (e) The adult sibling of the patient or, if the patient has more than one sibling, a majority of the adult siblings who are reasonably available for consultation;
    (f) An adult relative of the patient who has exhibited special care and concern for the patient and who has maintained regular contact with the patient and who is familiar with the patient’s activities, health, and religious or moral beliefs; or
    (g) A close friend of the patient.

    Example: Mom has not done correct planning with her advance directives and she has a stroke and cannot make her own healthcare decisions. She is not married and has 3 children.  Florida law provides that her three (3) children are her health care proxy, and that the majority decision on mom's health care will rule.

    The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) has a health care proxy acceptance affidavit (download the form for free here - note that this is a direct download and your web browser may block it), which can be very helpful for those seeking to help take over the health decisions (defined below) of their incapacitated loved ones. Of course, good estate and incapacity planning tries to avoid the health care proxy but if your loved one becomes incapacitated and a health care surrogate was not created, you can follow this statute and download the DCF affidavit (above) to help your family member.

    In the day and age of the coronavirus and COVID-19, many more people may become incapacitated without advance preparation, so this form may be useful.

    How is it determined that someone is incapacitated?

    You are incapacitated/incompetent to make your own health care decisions when you lack the ability to provide informed consent.  Informed consent means consent voluntarily given by a person after a sufficient explanation and disclosure of the subject matter involved to enable that person to have a general understanding of the treatment or procedure and the medically acceptable alternatives, including the substantial risks and hazards inherent in the proposed treatment or procedures, and to make a knowing health care decision without coercion or undue influence.

    What powers does a health care proxy have?

    Florida Statutes gives the proxy the power to make the incapacitated person's health care decisions, listed as follows, which includes the power to provide:

    • Informed consent, refusal of consent, or withdrawal of consent to any and all health care, including life-prolonging procedures and mental health treatment, unless otherwise stated in the advance directives.
    • The decision to apply for private, public, government, or veterans’ benefits to defray the cost of health care [such as Medicaid].
    • The right of access to health information of the principal reasonably necessary for a health care surrogate or proxy to make decisions involving health care and to apply for benefits.
    • The decision to make an anatomical gift pursuant to Florida Statutes.

    Please note that while the proxy can apply for Medicaid benefits on the incapacitated person's behalf, the proxy does not give someone the ability to access someone's bank accounts or make other financial or legal decisions.

    What about financial decisions?

    A health care proxy (or designation of healthcare surrogate) does not give the ability for the family to make financial decisions, which includes banking, bill paying, legal matters and more. If the person needing help is competent, then he or she should do a durable power of attorney with a good elder law attorney. If the person is incapacitated and family member needs to assist them with bill paying, financial matters and other legal aspects, then someone may need to petition for a guardianship in order to help make the legal and financial decisions. The guardianship process can also take away the incapacitated person's rights, which may be necessary when someone has dementia and does not recognize their own incapacity.

    What if someone is incapacitated but not accepting their incapacity?

    In this event, it is possible that a guardianship will be necessary to help manage the incapacitated person's affairs. A Florida guardianship means that a court takes away the incapacitated person's right to make their own decisions.

    If you want to learn more about estate planning in Florida, please feel freed to download a copy of my book, The Top 20 Ways to Protect Your Florida Estate.

    Further, you may also want to read:

     

  • What evidence can be used in a Florida car accident case?

    Most people aren’t thinking about protecting their injury claims in the moments after a car accident. Victims are often shaken and just want to go home, or are taken away from the scene by an ambulance while they're not yet conscious.

    While receiving medical treatment is the most important thing you can do after a crash, collecting evidence to help your case should be the next thing on your agenda.

    7 Pieces of Evidence You Need for Your Florida Crash Case

    case_evidence

    Whether you're filing a case in court or filing a claim with the insurance company, it's vital that you gather as much evidence as possible. The more documentation you have to support your losses, the more likely you are to get a settlement that covers your injuries and property damages.

    Strong evidence in a car accident case includes:

    1. Police reports. Law officers are required to fill out an accident report whenever they attend to an accident scene. You may have to pay a fee for a copy of the police report, but the cost is usually minimal—and it's worth it, if the police officer made any observations that help your case. Insurers know that it's difficult to refute the word of a police officer at the scene, so if the officer’s report says you aren’t at fault, you have a good chance at compensation.
    2. Photographs. Pictures are invaluable to your case because they present an impartial view of the facts. There's no limit to the items that may be photographed, but common photos include the position of the vehicles after the crash, the damage done to both vehicles, the appearance of skid marks, the position of road signs and traffic lights, and photos of your injuries.
    3. Eyewitnesses. If you were unconscious at the time of the crash, the police report may include the names and contact information of the other driver as well as any witnesses that were at the scene. Any one of these people may be called to give their testimony regarding what they saw at the crash scene.
    4. Medical records. Your medical information is key to getting fair compensation for your injuries. You should have copies of all of your medical bills, including receipts for amounts both due and paid. You should also have copies of medical procedures, scans, tests, and treatment beginning on the day of the crash to the current date.
    5. Work absence records. If you've been unable to work as a result of your injuries, you will need proof of the days you have taken off of work as well as proof of lost benefits, such as lost sick days, bonuses, or opportunities for advancement.
    6. Property damage estimates. It's important to have all records relating to the damage to your vehicle, not just a repair estimate and car rental receipt. Some supporting evidence many people overlook is documentation of the condition of the vehicle before the crash, such as recent upgrades or improvements that increased the value of the car. Car maintenance records can also help prove that your car was in good working order and the crash wasn't caused by a problem with your vehicle.
    7. Items from the day of the crash. If your case goes to court, personal items may be admitted as evidence to show the extent of your loss, such as clothing you were wearing at the time of the accident, or the recording of your 911 call.

    Strong evidence in your case is not only required to prove you weren't at fault, but also impact how much you're awarded in your claim. A forgotten out-of-pocket expense will leave you with less than you deserve for your medical costs, while doubt regarding fault may cost you thousands in pain and suffering damages.

    Your Best Asset: An Experienced Attorney

    The best way to gather evidence after a car accident is to seek the advice of an experienced attorney. Our legal team can preserve information that may otherwise have been destroyed, work with accident reconstructionists to recreate the scene, or call expert witnesses to give testimony on your behalf.

    Fill out the contact form on this page today to set up your consultation with an injury attorney. We work on a contingency-fee basis, so you will not have to pay our firm anything until you receive compensation.

     

  • How are IRAs counted for Medicaid purposes?

    When an elderly or disabled person is looking to apply for long-term care Medicaid in Florida, the applicant must document their income and assets for Medicaid purposes, which are set forth in our asset and income levels webpage.  Generally, a single person is only allowed to have some $2,000 in countable assets while a married couple will be allowed some $128,000 (this amount changes every year) in countable assets.

    Part of the application process means looking at countable assets. Countable assets include bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, annuities and more. Basically, the applicant must disclose all assets as part of the process.  Interestingly and importantly, the applicant's IRA/401K/Qualified Plans may not be a countable asset for application purposes. The rule is that if the applicant is taking periodic distributions from their IRA/401K/Qualified Plans, the account is not a countable asset for Medicaid purposes. Instead, any distributions from the account are counted as income for Medicaid purposes. This would mean, for instance, that any distribution from the IRA/401K/Qualified Plan may go to the nursing home as part of the patient's responsibility. This would also mean that any distributions from these plans could require a Qualified Income Trust, among other important ramifications. The application of this rule can be pretty tricky, with an example as follows:

    Example #1: Mom is an unmarried nursing home resident and has $50,000 in her checking account and $50,000 in stocks and bonds. Her gross income is $2,000/month from Social Security. In order to get Medicaid to pay for mom's nursing home care, she is only allowed $2,000 in countable assets, meaning that she must spend down most of her assets (some $98,000) before Medicaid will assist her. Of course with a good elder law attorney, assets can be protected from the nursing home.

    Example #2: Same facts but mom only has $10,000 in her checking account and $90,000 in her IRA. If mom is taking period distributions of $300/month from her IRA, she will only have the checking account as a countable asset for Medicaid purposes, with the IRA not counting as an asset. Interestingly, the $300/month coming from the IRA will take mom over the income cap for Medicaid purposes, meaning she will need an income trust in order to get Medicaid. Also, any distributions from the IRA will be countable income for Medicaid purposes, which means that mom will not be able to take money out of the IRA once she is on Medicaid to use it for her benefit!

    In both examples, mom or her family would want to see a good elder law attorney to assist with the Medicaid application and possible protection of assets. In example #1, the elder law attorney may be able to help the elder legally spend down the assets. In example #2, an elder law attorney would be needed to help establish the Qualified Income Trust, among other things.

    Interestingly, the concept of the IRA as income an not an asset may present further problems. Once the applicant receives Medicaid, only the RMD can be taken out without effecting Medicaid substantially. If the elder wants money for their own spending, to pay for their funeral expenses or even to pay for their own home, once that person is on Medicaid, any distribution from the IRA will create problems. When an elder needs Medicaid and their sole asset is an IRA, we frequently work to make a larger distribution the month before we need Medicaid in order to have some funds set aside.  A good elder law attorney can help protect the assets and apply for Medicaid.

    As we can see, an IRA would generally not need to be protected from nursing home spend down as long as the applicant is receiving their required minimum distributions. If you want to learn more about spending down assets from long-term care Medicaid, we have more information here.  

    There are no easy Medicaid applications and every situation is different, but if you or your loved one needs help to pay for their long-term care, we can help you. We can help you from anywhere in Florida as well.

    People who read this may also want to read:

    Download my Free Book!

    If you want to learn more about Medicaid and asset protection in Florida, or are helping your aging loved one and need some help, please feel free to download our free book, Don't Lose Your Nest Egg to a Florida Nursing Home!

     

  • How can I dispose of personal property in my estate plan?

    Florida law permits the use of a “separate writing” to dispose of certain items of personal property part of your last will and testament. Here are some common questions and answers that may assist your family from arguing over certain items upon your death, all in a simple and efficient manner.

    Why use a Separate Writing in my Estate Plan?

    A separate writing is best used to make sure certain tangible items go to certain people who may otherwise argue over who receives what. This allows you to make small changes to your estate without going to your attorney for items of personal property.

    How do I use a Separate Writing?

    If your will or trust authorizes a separate writing, you can create a list of certain property to be distributed to named beneficiaries. The writing must be signed and dated but it is not witnessed or notarized. You should describe the item with specific clarity.

    What is covered with a separate writing?

    Your separate writing covers antiques, furniture, jewelry and more, but specifically excludes gifts of cash, stocks, and bonds. If you think your heirs may argue over the property, or if you promised a specific item to that person, you would write it down on a separate sheet, which is then legally binding.

    Where should I keep the separate writing?

    Keep it attached to your will or in your estate binder so that your heirs could easily find it upon your death. 

    Learn more about Florida Estate Planning

    Good estate planning means more than just will, trusts and incapacity planning, but also trying to avoid arguments or hurt feelings with your loved ones. If you want to learn more about estate planning, join us for one of our free monthly seminars

     

  • What is a designation of health care surrogate?

    Elder man who is with his health care advocateA designation of health care surrogate is an incapacity planning document naming your health care advocate. This, along with your living will, is known as an advance directive.

    What is a designation of health care surrogate?

    This is a form that designates your decisionmaker in the event you need help with your care, advocacy and end-of-life wishes. Some states refer to it as a power of attorney for health care.

    Should I update my health care surrogate designation?

    Yes, if you have not updated your documents since 2015. Florida law was recently changed to include new options relative to when your designation of health surrogate goes into effect. The pre-2015 law said that your surrogate designation only went into effect if a doctor declared you incompetent. The new law lets the surrogate designation go into effect when you sign it. This change makes it much easier to ensure you are getting the care you need and for your surrogate to speak with your doctor without a declaration of incapacity.

    Example: Mom, age 86, develops a urinary tract infection that completely disrupts her cognition and function level. If mom had the post 2015 Florida Health Care Surrogate, her trusted daughter could immediately help make mom's health care decisions without the formal necessity of two doctors declaring her incompetent. In other words, the surrogate can act faster in helping make mom's decisions.

    Can my power of attorney be different than my health care surrogate?

    Yes. Your durable power of attorney is for financial and legal matters, while your health care surrogate designation is for health care decisions. You can name different people to assist you as you age, but you would certainly want to make sure they get along with each other and can work together.

    Why should my health care surrogate designation be separate from my living will?

    Our opinion is that your designation of health care surrogate should be in a separate written form from your living will. While every situation is different, we like the idea that an elderly person or someone with beginning stages of dementia may need to change their health care surrogate but may not have the desire to change their end-of-life wishes in their living will. This allows easier adjustments to estate planning documents and clarity for all.

    Example: Mom is getting forgetful at age 92. Her trusted daughter has to move away and another daughter is to become the health care surrogate. Due to mom's mental decline, she can understand her health care surrogate change but she may not be able to understand (or even want to discuss) the nuances of her own end-of-life wishes in her living will. With separate documents, we can easily change the health care surrogate but not have to broach the very touchy subject of mom's end-of-life care wishes.

    What else should I consider with health care surrogate designations?

    Make sure your documents have alternate people who can help you. We have seen a number of incapacity planning documents lately without alternate agents. Please call me if you would like to create or update your existing health care surrogate designation. We also invite you to attend any of my free monthly estate planning seminars to learn more.

    What if my loved on is incapacitated and did not create a health care surrogate?

    See our section on Health Care Proxies in Florida for more information.

    Learn more about Florida advance directives:

  • Is title insurance needed when buying a home in Florida?

    Florida title insurance for home purchaseThe answer is YES! When you purchase a home, you want to be certain it’s yours. Even the most diligent search of the public records may fail to disclose title defects such as:

    • A forged will or deed
    • A married person conveying homestead real estate without his or her spouse
    • Fraudulent impersonations
    • Secret marriages
    • Undisclosed heirs
    • Invalid divorces

    These are just a few of the potential problems that can arise. Without the protection of title insurance, you would be in jeopardy of losing your investment.

    What types of title insurance are there?

    Two. The owner’s policy protects the homeowner or real estate investor. The loan (mortgagee) policy protects the mortgage holder by ensuring that its mortgage lien is the first lien on the property. If you are financing your real estate purchase, your lender will require a loan policy. This is typically a closing cost of the buyer.

    Is there an annual premium for title insurance?

    No. You pay only once. There are no renewal premiums, and there is no expiration date on the policy. The protection lasts as long as you, or your heirs, retain an interest in the property. The real estate you own represents stability, permanence and the hope of the future. Don’t take a chance and let your property be taken from you because of a flaw in the title. It makes good sense, for the relatively small amount it costs, to protect yourself with title insurance.

    Please call me or fill complete our contact form if you have any questions about title insurance.

  • What are the most common causes of Florida car accidents?

    car_crashNearly every American will be involved in a car accident at some point in his or her life. While it's the responsibility of every driver to stay safe on the road, many people engage in risky or even outright dangerous behaviors that place them and others at risk.

    By learning the most common threats to road safety, drivers and passengers can recognize danger early on, and maybe even prevent an accident before it happens.

    Driver Actions and Other Common Factors in U.S. Road Accidents

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has performed numerous studies on car accident causes over the years. Each year, driver error is by far the biggest single cause of car accidents nationwide, with a much smaller percentage of accidents caused by vehicle malfunction or adverse road conditions.

    Those statistics are right in line with what happens on Florida's roadways as well. The most likely factors that lead to car accidents include:

    • Distracted driving. Distracted driving has been on the rise since the invention of smartphones, with as many as one in four auto accidents involving some level of distraction. Cell phone use is the biggest distraction, including talking on the phone, checking email and social media, or texting while driving. If a driver doesn't notice the lights change, hits the brakes suddenly, or is holding one hand up to his face, stay well clear of his vehicle in traffic—and of course, resist the urge to use your phone.
    • Impaired driving. While alcohol and drug use is less prevalent than distracted driving, it's still a leading factor in accidents that involve fatalities. Drinking and use of illegal drugs or prescription medications can decrease reaction times, impair judgment and vision, and even cause hallucinations. If you see someone acting erratically on the road, always report the behavior to police. Your actions could stop the impaired driver from causing a crash.
    • Drowsy driving. Drowsy driving carries many of the same risks as driving under the influence. While it's not illegal to drive while fatigued, tired drivers place both themselves and others at risk if they fall asleep while driving. Even if they don't fall completely asleep, their comprehension and motor skills are still impaired. Beware of drivers who “drift” in and out of lanes, as this is a common sign of fatigue.
    • Reckless driving. Reckless driving is a combination of risky or illegal maneuvers that increase the likelihood of an accident. Aggressive actions such as speeding, tailgating, or “chasing” other cars due to road rage can be considered reckless, as can running a red light or engaging in street racing. A driver can be held liable for an accident if he or she was traveling too fast for weather conditions, such as a downpour or heavy fog, even if the driver was within the posted speed limit.
    • Unsafe lane changes. Many accidents on the freeway are a direct result of unsafe lane changing, such as late merging or failing to signal a lane change. These types of accidents can also occur on city streets, in traffic circles, and anywhere two lanes of traffic flow in the same direction. The majority of these accidents can be prevented by leaving plenty of space between vehicles, leaving enough time to complete the lane change safely, and checking mirrors and blind spots before proceeding into the desired lane.
    • Road conditions. Even if all road users are driving as safely as possible, they're still at the mercy of the road surfaces and driving conditions around them. City and state governments have a duty to make all public areas as safe as possible, including the roads drivers use every day. Potholes, oil slicks, spilled gravel, dangerous curves, road debris, and other hazards can easily cause a driver to blow out a tire or lose control of the vehicle.
    • Car defects. From the design of your vehicle to the different components installed in its many systems, automobiles have an almost limitless potential for malfunction. If your car wasn't performing properly before or during a crash, the manufacturer could be held liable for selling a dangerous or defective product.

    We Can Help

    If you need help after a car accident, we can get you the compensation you deserve—and you won't have to pay our firm anything until you receive compensation. Fill out the contact form on this page today to set up your consultation with an injury attorney.