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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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  • How Much Do We Charge For Last Wills and Testaments?

    In our initial consultation, we will review your assets, your wishes and the best way to make sure you and your heirs are provided for. We will send you a questionnaire to complete that will show your family picture, your goals and your finances. In our meeting we will quote you a fee based upon the work and complexity involved. The key to any estate planning is to know that having a will, or a trust, is not mere document preparation, but seeing how your assets work with your written documents. Having a well written will is very important but, even more importantly, you need to know how all of your assets are distributed upon your death as your will may control few of your assets.

    Our basic fee to complete a last will and testament is $400 for a single person, $500 for a couple. Our pricing includes an analysis of your wishes, review and execution of your document(s), discussion of assets and beneficiaries, and among other matters.

    Please call us today so we can help you!

  • What Does My Last Will and Testament Do?

    Your will is a legally binding statement directing who will receive your probate property at your death. It also nominates the personal representative to carry out your directions and represent your estate. 

    One of the most important aspects of your will is that it only controls your probate property. Probate property only includes assets that are in your own individual name. Many types of property pass outside of probate. Jointly-owned property, property in trust, life insurance proceeds and property with a named beneficiary, such as IRAs or 401(k) plans, all pass outside of probate and not according to the will.

    Your Last Will & Testament provides the opportunity to name your personal representative(s). This is the person who will take your assets through probate and make final distributions to your heirs. Your personal representative should be completely trustworthy and impartial, with the ability to avoid and handle conflicts with family members. 

    To learn more about your last will and testament, and the other documents we recomment for our clients, please see our handout on the 4 Estate Planning Documents (Most) Everyone Should Have.

  • Who should serve as my health care surrogate in Florida?

    Choosing your Healthcare Surrogate in Florida is one of the most important decisions you can make in estate an incapacity planning. Your health surrogate is the person who will make your healthcare decisions and generally advocate for you as you age or experience a disease process. While we typically associate your surrogate with helping with end-of-life issues associated with your living will, the surrogate’s duties are broader than this. The surrogate may need to help you move to assisted living or nursing home, may need to help arrange home care, may need to attend doctor's appointments and much, much more.  

    Choosing a surrogate may not be as easy as you think.  To help you make the right decisions, you should review the following list of questions to as part of the decision tree.  Ask yourself, does your nominated HCS have the following attributes:

    1.        Would be willing to speak on your behalf?

    2.        Would be able to act on your wishes and separate his/her own feelings from yours?

    3.        Lives close by or could travel to be at your side if needed?

    4.        Knows you well and understands what’s important to you?

    5.        Is someone you trust with your life?

    6.        Will talk with you now about sensitive issues and will listen to your wishes?

    7.        Will likely be available long into the future?

    8.        Would be able to handle conflicting opinions between family members, friends, and medical staff?

                9.      Can be a strong advocate in the face of an unresponsive doctor or institution personnel.

    In choosing the best surrogate, you should name alternate surrogates as well.  This way, if one surrogate is not able to serve, or is not reasonably available, the other surrogate can serve.

    As part of our estate planning we will review all of your options, making sure your wishes are followed during your lifetime and upon your death. 

  • How long will it take to resolve my personal injury case?

    lawyer working

    The length of time it takes to get compensation in an injury case can vary widely from client to client. While most personal injury cases can be resolved in about a year, the timeline will be longer or shorter depending on the specifics of your case.

     

    The length of time it will take to resolve your injury case depends on:

     

    • The severity of your injuries. The extent and complexity of your injuries can affect the timeline of your case. For instance, if you broke your arm in a Florida slip and fall accident, your case would likely be resolved more quickly than if you had suffered a traumatic brain injury or back injury that caused long-term losses.
    • Whether you reach maximum medical improvement. The goal of a personal injury case is to recover as much of your lost wages and medical costs as possible. For this reason, many attorneys recommend that you wait to settle your claim until you have reached maximum physical recovery. Once your doctor agrees that your injuries are healed, or that your condition is unlikely to improve, your attorney can more accurately calculate your future losses.
    • The investigation process. Your case hinges on evidence, and it can take a long time to gather the paperwork needed to prove your case. We work with many different parties to collect evidence, such as medical records, police reports, photographs, video recordings, and insurance communications. It can take agencies a long time to respond to these requests.
    • The amount of damages. Cases that involve a large settlement typically take longer than demands for a lower amount of damages. Insurers may decide that it's better to pay out a reasonable settlement than spend money building a case and going to trial. However, if a victim suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in injury costs, the insurer is much more likely to attempt to defeat the claim in court.
    • Whether or not you go to trial. Many personal injury cases reach a settlement without going to trial. While cases that settle may resolve more quickly, they often involve negotiations that result in lower damages. If you go to trial, you can potentially win more in damages, but you will be reliant on court dates, judges’ schedules, and other delays that can lengthen your case.

    While there isn't a time limit for how long an injury case may last, there's a limited window of time that victims have to file their lawsuit in court. After this period, a victim loses his right to pursue compensation. Contact us today to have our legal team get started on your case.

     

  • How much is a personal injury attorney going to cost?

    compensation agreementMany injury victims struggle to pay for the costs of their medical bills and do not have the funds to hire a lawyer for their cases. For this reason, attorneys are allowed to work on a contingency fee basis when taking on a Florida personal injury case.

    A contingency fee agreement is an arrangement between a lawyer and an injury client where the lawyer agrees to foot the bill for case until it's won.

    Simply put, contingency fees allow injury victims to get legal advice and representation without paying any costs up front.

    Benefits of Contingency Fee Agreements in Florida Injury Cases

    Contingency fees offer a number of benefits for both attorneys and clients. First, since the attorney won't be paid unless the case is won, he has a greater incentive to win your case. He'll also try to keep expenses as low as possible and recover as high a settlement for you as he can, since he's paid with a percentage of your damages.

    Additional advantages of a contingency fee agreement include:

    • A client pays no upfront costs of his or her case, including retainers, requests for medical records, obtaining police reports, hiring expert witnesses and investigators, taking depositions, creating trial exhibits, and postage and filing fees.
    • The client doesn't pay legal fees until the case is settled, allowing the client to retain as much of his or her compensation as possible while the case is being decided.
    • If the attorney does not win the case, the client doesn't pay any legal fees.
    • The lawyer is limited as to the percentage of the client’s recovery he may take as his fee.

    In order for a contingency fee agreement to be legal, the lawyer and client must sign a written fee agreement before litigation that states what portion of the recovery the lawyer will be paid. In Florida, the percentage depends on a number of factors, including the amount of damages, whether the attorney must file a lawsuit (versus settling without filing), whether a negligent party admits liability, and whether an appeal must be filed.

    Our attorneys are proud to offer our assistance to all injury clients on a contingency-fee basis. Contact us today to speak to a member of our legal team about your case.

     

  • How do I pay my medical bills after a Florida car accident?

    woman figuring billsNot every injured driver needs to pursue a lawsuit to get injury coverage after a crash. There are several different options available to pay for your medical costs after a Florida car accident, including:

    • No-fault car insurance. All Florida drivers are required to purchase Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage from an auto insurance company.

      Since Florida is a no fault car accident state, all drivers claim their injuries and losses on their own car’s insurance policy. If you're not insured under any auto policy and were injured as a passenger, you can request payment under the PIP medical coverage of the vehicle you were riding in. If you were injured as a pedestrian, you can seek medical coverage from any covered vehicle involved in the accident. PIP will generally cover up to $10,000 of your medical costs.
    • MedPay. Medical Payment Insurance Coverage, or MedPay, is an optional benefit that helps cover Florida car accident costs. MedPay covers the co-pay that your PIP requires, which can be up to two thousand dollars. Depending on the coverage you've selected, you may be able to use MedPay for costs that PIP insurance doesn't reimburse.
    • Health insurance. If your medical bills exceed the amount paid for through your auto insurance, you can submit claims to your personal health insurance providers. Your health insurance carrier usually wants you to exhaust as much as you can through your car insurance before accessing health care benefits.
    • Medicare and Medicaid. If you rely on federal programs such as Medicare or Medicaid, these programs will pay for your medical bills related to a car accident. However, you may be asked for reimbursement for some or all of these costs.
    • Workers’ compensation. If your car accident happened while you were performing job-related duties, your employer’s workers’ compensation coverage is required to pay all of your medical bills, including deductibles, co-pays, and transportation expenses incurred while going to and from your doctors’ appointments.
    • Injury lawsuit. If your medical costs far exceed the amount of your insurance coverage, you may consider suing the at-fault driver. You still have to pay your bills as your case is being decided, but the settlement you receive should but calculated carefully to include any fees or financial hardship you have endured while waiting for the resolution of your case.

    Our attorneys can help determine the best way for you to get medical coverage after your injury. Contact us today for a prompt response from a member of our legal team.

     

  • What types of compensation can I collect in a Florida injury case?

    lawyer consulting with clientFinancial difficulties are the biggest reason injury victims consider filing a lawsuit. Victims are often unable to work as they go through long and painful recoveries, racking up medical bills with no way to pay for their losses. Pursuing an injury case allows victims to recover a large portion of the costs they have already paid, but also an amount for future losses their injuries may cause.

    Different Types of Damages Awarded to Florida Injury Victims

    Florida courts can award two types of monetary settlements, also called damages, to injury victims. Economic damages are the award for the costs a victim has already paid, and can be totaled and estimated easily. Non-economic damages are awarded on top of calculable losses, and include additional payments that may not be easily quantified, such as payment for unnecessary suffering.

    Injury victims typically seek compensation for:

    • Past medical treatment. Emergency room visits, hospital stays, prescription medicines, physical therapy, rehabilitative devices, and any medical bills related to the accident may be recovered. If you were forced to make modifications to your home or vehicle due to the injury, these may also be recompensed.
    • Future medical costs. Injuries that have caused long-lasting health problems or permanent disabilities can cost a victim thousands of dollars each year. Courts may assign an additional amount to cover these costs.
    • Property damages. Injuries that caused damage to your home, car, or other property may be included in your settlement, such as the replacement value of your vehicle.
    • Lost wages. Injury victims may receive payment for the wages they lost while they were out of work. They can also be granted an amount to compensate them for the loss of income they'll suffer as a result of long-term injury or disability.
    • Pain and suffering. Pain and suffering is a form of non-economic compensation. It's awarded only in certain cases, such as if a victim has suffered severe physical and emotional pain, inconvenience, mental anguish, disability, disfigurement, or loss of enjoyment of life. Most Florida injury cases that qualify for pain and suffering damages involve permanent injuries or long-term suffering.
    • Punitive damages. These are another form of non-economic damages that are meant to punish the wrongdoer for his or her negligence.

    Our attorneys can help determine the proper amount for your economic and non-economic damages, giving you the best chance of recovery for your injury. Contact us today for a prompt response from a member of our legal team.

     

  • My loved one is already in the nursing home. Is it possible to protect assets now?

    Yes! When someone is in a Florida nursing home, it can be very expensive, often exceeding $10,000 per month. This means that all but the very wealthy can afford a nursing home for an extended length of time. Importantly, assets can be protected with the correct planning and advice. The first rule is that you cannot give your assets away within 5 years of a nursing home application.  The Medicaid transfer penalty rules are very strict. This does not mean, however, that an attorney cannot legally help protect assets. Hiring an elder law attorney will allow you to protect your loved one's assets, legally lowering the elder's assets to below the countable asset limit. We generally call the asset protection process part of Medicaid spend down. Once the family hires a good elder law attorney, the attorney knows legal ways to protect assets without giving the money away. Once the funds are legally lowered, the elder law attorney will apply for Medicaid.

    Legal Spend Down Planning

    I generally think about spend down planning as legal and effective ways to spend money without paying it all to the nursing home. Examples of spend down planning includes fixing up the applicant's home, purchasing irrevocable funeral contracts, paying for burial plots and more. We have more information on Medicaid spend down planning here.

    Legal Asset Protection Planning

    After legal spend down planning, an elder law attorney can help protect assets. Asset protection here does not mean giving money away (which is bad) but working with an attorney who knows how to protect assets and then apply for Medicaid.

    Can Our Law Firm Help?

    A nursing home Medicaid application can be very, very difficult. We have made over 500 Medicaid applications at our office, all without a single denial. We are glad to help you and your loved one if they are in a nursing home or assisted living facility, no matter where you are in the state of Florida. We offer initial consultations to see if we can help. 

    Read Our Free Book on Medicaid and Long-Term Care!

    I have written a book, Don't Lose Your Nest Egg to a Florida Nursing Home, available for download. My book discusses long-term care, Medicaid, Medicare and many other topics that can help the family in a difficult time.

    Other Frequently Asked Questions:

     

     

  • Can I Name My Living Trust As Beneficiary Of My IRA?

    There are times when you may want to name your living trust as beneficiary of your IRA or 401k (i.e., your tax deferred qualified plans) upon your death but there are a lot of rules on this. First, you would want to confirm the reason for naming your trust as beneficiary of your qualified plans. Your qualified plans have beneficiaries that avoid probate in the first place, so the main reason you would want them to go to a trust is so that they are held in trust for a beneficiary. 

    One of the main concepts of estate planning with your qualified plans is making sure they "stretch out" to your beneficiaries upon your death. Upon your death, your beneficiaries do not need to withdraw the funds. In fact, the longer the beneficiaries leave the funds in account the longer the funds can grow tax free.  Tax free growth over many years is an amazing way to grow an IRA. The long and short of it is that an individual beneficiary can roll over an IRA into a "beneficiary directed" IRA. The beneficiary can then leave the funds in the IRA, taking out only required minimum distributions over their lifetimes allowing for this amazing growth.

    In order for a trust to be able to stretch the IRA out like an individual, the trust must be specifically drafted to recieve the IRA. When correctly drafted, the trust can act as a "see through trust" for IRS purposes, which allows the wonderful stretchout. To qualify as a look-through trust, the following criteria need to be met:

    • Must be valid under state law
    • Must be irrevocable (or revocable while the IRA owner is alive, provided the trust becomes irrevocable upon the individual's death)
    • Must have named identifiable beneficiaries
    • Must provide the plan administrator with either a copy of the trust instrument or qualifying documentation of the trust

    If your trust is not drafted correctly to recieve your qualifed plan, the opportunity to leave the funds in the IRA (i.e., to stretchout the funds) may be severely limited. This means that the IRA will have to be distributed out quickly, which creates additional taxes. Essentially, a poorly drafted trust is a wealth killer, not a wealth creator.

    You may want to leave assets in a trust for a beneficiary. Perhaps the beneficiary is too young, too irresponsible, has creditor issues, has special needs, is in a troubled marriage or more. If you want to create a trust for someone’s benefit, you can name the trust as beneficiary, but the trust must be drafted the correct way.

    I am an expert at drafting IRA Trusts, having spent many, many hours researching, attending seminars, and readings on the subject. I am also a member of Wealthcounsel, which has a great standalone IRA trust.  If you want to leave your IRA or 401k to a trust for a beneficiary’s benefit, we will be glad to assist you.

  • How Long Does the Probate Process Take in Florida?

    The Florida probate process takes a different amount of time based upon the type of probate.  There are two types of probate in Florida: a formal probate administration and a summary probate administration. There is also a disposition without administration that is available in very limited circumstances.

    The formal probate administration usually takes 6-9 months under most circumstances. This process includes appointing a personal representative (i.e., the "executor"), a 90 days creditor's period that must run, payment of creditor's claims and more. One important distinction on probate is that the personal representative, once appointed by the courts, has the ability to manage and sell the estate assets. This means that while the probate process can take a number of months, the estate assets can be sold and managed effectively.

    The summary probate administration, usually reserve for small estates worth less than $75,000 that have no debt, can take less than a month under the right circumstances. 

    If your loved one died with assets in their own, individual name, then they will likely need to seek an attorney to deal with the court process.

    If you want to learn more about the Florida Probate process, please download our free book on Navigating the Florida Probate Process.

  • Should I have a Revocable Living Trust?

    Most people want to avoid probate upon their deaths. This means that they may want to have a living trut based estate plan over a will based estate plan. But does this mean that you should create a living trust as part of your estate plan?

    There is no simple answer to this question. Creating a living trust would generally mean that you have assets that would go through probate. When assets go through probate, the heirs have to hire an attorney. The attorney usually gets paid a fee of 3% of the probate assets. The probate process also takes from 6-9 months under most circumstances. Thus, revocable trust planning could save your heirs both time and money.

    One of the first quesitons is if you want to save your heirs both time and money. Some people do not have close families that they want to try and save money for. Some people may not have a lot of probate assets in the first place, so there may be other ways to avoid probate that are even better than through a living trust. The other aspect of trust planning is that trusts are generally more expensive than wills, which means that if you want to spend less money with an attorney at this point in your life, you may want a will based estate plan.

    The best way to know if you should have a living trust based estate plan is to sit down with an attorney who will review your assets, your goals and the best way to accomplish your goals. Our estate planning process will help you decide which way is best for you and your family.

    We have a free guide to living trusts in Florida to help you make an educated decision as part of your estate plans.

  • What is the difference between a Living Will and a Do Not Resuscitate Order in Florida?

    There is a huge difference between a living will and a Do Not Resuscitate Order in Florida. As part of your estate and incapacity planning, you should have a durable power of attorney, designation of healthcare surrogate and a living will. These documents will prepare you and your family to take care of your legal and financial decisions. Our handout, Four Essential Estate Planning Documents, can help you clarify these documents.

    Your living will is the written statement of your end-of-life wishes. It says that if you are in an end-stage condition, a terminal condition or a persistent vegetative state, you would want certain life-prolonging procedures without. Life-prolonging procedures can include withholding life support such as tube feeding, ventilation, surgery, dialysis, pacemakers and more. Chief among these procedures is whether you would want to be resuscitated if you were sick and close to the end of your life. Thus, your living will is the written statement that would say that you would want a Do Not Resuscitate Order.

    The Do Not Resuscitate Order, on the other hand, is a physician's order for medical providers to not provide CPR to you. This Florida form is always on yellow paper so that it can be easily identified by everyone. Your physician signs this document and is typically not provided from your attorney. If you have a DNRO and are home, you would typically hang it on your refrigerator as EMS responders are trained to look for this paperwork.

    In looking at CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), it is important to remember how traumatic this is on the body. CPR often means broken ribs, internal bleeding and immediate placement on a ventilator afterward. CPR is also very ineffective in actually helping you live longer. Statistics show that a healthy person has a less than 15% chance of full recovery after receiving CPR while an older person with multiple health issues has a less than 2% chance of recovery from CPR. Thus, having a DNRO would be very, very important to allow you to pass away quickly without the trauma of CPR.  

    If your loved one is experiencing end of life issues, our life care planning team can help advocate to make sure your loved one is taken care of and their wishes followed.

  • Do I need to re-do my last will and testament if I just moved to Florida?

    Moving to another state means that you should have an attorney review your existing estate planning documents to make sure they are correct.  Importantly, just because you moved it does not mean that your last will and testament must be redone. You should, however, have a knowledgeable attorney review your will and other documents, just in case there are Florida specific rules that you should know.

    One reality is that your estate planning documents may be older and may have some long awaited updates, so it can never hurt to review the documents before you visit an attorney. It is also more likely that your incapacity planning documents, meaning your power of attorney, designation of healthcare surrogate, and living will, should be changed as the documents are more state specific.

    If you would like to have your out of state documents reviewed, call (727) 397-5571 to schedule a consultation.

  • Should I name Co-Powers of Attorney?

    When we meet with clients they sometimes want to name their children as co-powers of attorney. Sometimes they want to divide the workload for their children, or they could be concerned about one child travelling, or they want one child to be able to watch over another child.  Regardless of the motives, we generally DO NOT like to name co-powers of attorney. The reason is that in the event the powers of attorney had a conflict, then who is in charge?  Answer - they both are!  This could certainly be a recipe for disaster.

    Our preferred method for incapacity planning is naming an agent and then his or her alternates in descending order.  For instance, you would likely name your spouse first, then your most trustworthy, responsible and local child as alternate to your spouse, then name a third or fourth alternate as well. We sometimes see incapacity planning documents that are not flexible enough as they are not able to age well. Family members may move, for instance, and your documents need to take possible future events into account.

    We do, however, have one important exception to this rule. Sometimes with an aging couple, it may not be best to name your spouse as your power of attorney, or perhaps you would want to name your spouse and your trusted child as co-powers of attorney.  Here is an example of our planning:

    Husband and Wife are both 88 years old. The husband is having a few memory issues but is still very competent. The wife is mentally competent but having some health issues and is not able to get around very well due to her osteoporosis. They have a trusted child who lives very close and helps matters on a weekly basis.  

    In this fact pattern, we think it highly appropriate for each spouse to name each other as their power of attorney and also the trusted child. This way, due to the elder's possible future decline, both mentally and physically, we are better prepared to help take over and help them, when necessary.

    As each situation is different, we will be glad to discuss your incapacity planning with you so you and your family are best prepared for the future.

  • Will My Living Will Be Effective at End of Life?

    A living will is a written statement expressing your end of life decisions. Most everyone agrees that they would not want to "be a vegetable" but living wills have more nuance than this. Studies have shown that living wills have not been effective in helping us die better deaths in the United States. Statistics have shown, for instance, that people with living wills and people without living wills die in the hospital at the same percentage rate. One can argue that this means living wills are ineffective because most people would not want to die in a hospital but would rather be at home with their loved ones.  

    If living wills are ineffective, what are the reasons for this?  The answers are generally as follows:

    • The family/care providers never had a copy of the living will;
    • The living will is vague and not specific;
    • The patient changes their mind on withholding medical procedures at end of life;
    • The healthcare surrogate did not know what the principal wanted;
    • The healthcare surrogate does not enforce the living will, maybe through family pressure;
    • The doctors do not discuss end of life issues clearly enough with family;
    • The family does not understand that their loved one is actually at end of life;
    • The surrogate/family are not realistic in medical expectations and medical futility (i.e., they do not want to give up hope);
    • And more . . .

    If living wills are generally considered ineffective, what are the options for improving that you die in accordance with your wishes while avoiding unnecessary medical procedures?

    • Communicate your wishes with your surrogate AND family.  Some people do not even talk with their surrogate about their end of life wishes or experiences. A good discussion with these people will make sure your wishes are known for all, which will reduce the likelihood of family conflict and confirm that the surrogate will be able to enforce your end-of-life wishes.
    • Have a good, specific living will.  We like to use the Empath Choices for Care living will as it is specific and broad at the same time. 
    • Do not use the Florida Statutory living will. Our opinion is that this living will is too vague for many end of life situations - doctors and other caregivers do not like vague documents in the least.
    • Make sure your surrogate and family has a copy of your living will. This only makes sense. At our office, we scan in all estate planning documents so our clients can share them easily with their family.
    • Review your living will often to make sure it meets your wishes.
    • Confirm that your healthcare surrogate is strong enough to enforce your wishes, which could mean dealing with bad medical advice or overly emotional family members.
    • Make sure you know the difference between a living will and a Do Not Resuscitate Order. Among other differences, the living will is prepared by your attorney while the Do Not Resuscitate Order is signed by your physician. We also have an FAQ on the differences between living wills and Do Not Resuscitate Orders in Florida.

    I have spent many, many hours studying living wills and end of life issues in order to help my clients the best I can. If you want a good elder law attorney who knows about living wills and advanced directives, and not one who is just filling out a form, I am glad to help you and your family as part of our incapacity planning.  You are also welcome to attend one of our free monthly seminars on estate planning and Medicaid/asset protection planning as well.

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