Phone: 727-397-5571

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 can I pay my medical bills after a pedestrian accident?

    ped_accidentWhen two cars collide, the victims have the benefit of airbags, steel frames, and countless safety measures to protect them from harm. People who are struck while walking or cycling have no such protection, causing injuries to be much more severe. Pedestrians involved in vehicle accidents are usually sent to the emergency room, may have a lengthy hospitalization, and are out of work for weeks, or even months, all of which, can be extremely costly.

    The High Medical Costs of a Florida Pedestrian Accident

    Pedestrians and bicyclists are often struck when vehicles turn in front of them, wander into pedestrian paths, or in a moment where the driver’s attention wasn't on the road. In just a few seconds, a pedestrian can suffer severe disability or even death as a result of being struck by a car or hitting the pavement at a high speed.

    Common injuries in pedestrian-car crashes often include:

    • Head injuries. A pedestrian will usually suffer traumatic brain injury (TBI) as his or her head makes contact with the hood of a car or the road surface. Even if a bicyclist is wearing a helmet, he or she can still suffer concussions or brain bleeding that results in long-term brain damage.
    • Chest and abdominal trauma. The force of impact can break a pedestrian’s bones, causing fractured ribs, a broken pelvis, and internal bleeding.
    • Spinal injuries. Bicyclists and pedestrians often suffer back injuries, such as a herniated disc or a spinal fracture that results in temporary or permanent paralysis.
    • Injuries to the extremities. In addition to internal injury, pedestrians may suffer broken hands, feet, and fingers as they attempt to brace their falls—or road rash and broken noses if they're unsuccessful.
    • Death. An impact at high speed can easily cause loss of life for a pedestrian or cyclist, placing an enormous financial and emotional burden on surviving family members.

    Methods of Payment for Pedestrian Accident Victims

    There are many ways for accident victims to get compensation for the loss of their property, the costs of medical treatment, and even pain and suffering after a crash. Some of the most common methods include:

    • The pedestrian’s car insurance. Florida is a no-fault insurance state, meaning each driver is expected to cover the costs of his or her own injuries after a car accident. All drivers are required to purchase personal injury protection (PIP) insurance to cover any injuries caused by car accidents. If the injured pedestrian or bicyclist also owns a motor vehicle that's insured in the State of Florida, the victim can use his PIP car insurance coverage to pay for his injuries, even if his vehicle wasn't involved in the accident. If the injured pedestrian doesn't own a vehicle, he or she can be covered under the insurance policy of a relative living in the same household that owns an insured vehicle.
    • The driver’s car insurance. If the injured pedestrian doesn't own a car and doesn't live with someone who owns a car, he or she can get payment under the insurance of the at-fault driver. This coverage provides medical, surgical, disability insurance, and funeral benefits to the driver and to other persons struck by an insured vehicle. In general, PIP providers are required to pay 80 percent of medical bills and up to 60 percent of lost wages directly caused by the effects of the crash up to a limit of $10,000.
    • The pedestrian’s health or disability insurance. Although PIP insurance can pay for a significant amount of a person’s injuries, it's often not enough to cover the full effects of a pedestrian accident. A victim may have to file a claim under his a health insurance or apply for disability benefits if he's unable to work or needs ongoing medical care due to the crash.
    • A personal injury lawsuit. Many people who are struck while walking or cycling don't have enough insurance coverage to pay for the extent of the treatment they'll need to recover from their injuries. Some won't ever be able to function at the same level as before the accident, and may not ever be able to earn a living to support themselves or their families. In these cases, victims would be best served by speaking to an accident attorney about their case. A personal injury case may be the best way to recover lost income, ensure that future health costs are paid for, and to hold the driver accountable for pain and suffering.

    We Can Help

    If you or someone you love has been involved in a car-pedestrian accident, our aggressive legal team can take over your case while take the time you need to heal from your injuries. Simply fill out the form on this page today to make an appointment in our offices. 

     

  • Why do I need an injury attorney with truck accident experience?

    semi_by_seaIn the days and weeks after a semi-truck accident, victims are forced to struggle with overwhelming physical and financial demands. They may be coping with extensive injuries, have trouble collecting fair payment from an insurance company, or even have lost a family member in the crash. When it becomes clear that a person needs a legal advisor to get proper compensation, he is then faced with an important decision: which accident attorney should represent him?

    The Importance of Choosing an Injury Attorney with Truck Accident Experience

    Crash injury cases are normally complicated, but are even more so when commercial trucks are involved. In order to be fully compensated for your losses, your legal team must have the experience needed to win these types of claims—and the attorney you choose for representation can make or break your case.

    Your truck crash attorney should be well-versed in the details of these kinds of cases, including:

    • Trucking regulations. Trucking companies must adhere to federal regulations on the condition and proper operation of their vehicles. Improper maintenance, cost-cutting measures, and failure to properly screen and train drivers can also constitute negligence. Your attorney should be familiar with these laws as well as the penalties for breaking them, in order to negotiate a fair settlement.
    • Commercial insurance companies. Payment for truck accident injuries will usually be made by the trucking company’s insurer. These commercial insurance carriers are paid based on their ability to save the company money, may use underhanded tactics to deny or underpay claims. Your lawyer must know how to negotiate with commercial insurance companies and handle a claim against a powerful defendant.
    • Loading requirements. In some cases, accidents may be caused by cargo loaded by a truck driver and hauled in the semi, or another party may have loaded the trailer. A truck loaded beyond capacity or not loaded securely could make the rig unbalanced, causing cargo to spill into the road where it strikes a car. A lawyer's full understanding of loading and commercial transport laws is vital to a truck crash case.
    • Third party claims. Some accidents are caused not by trucking company negligence, but the fault of a product manufacturer, government agency, or other entity. Just as a loading company may share fault for causing a crash, the maker of defective tires or brakes, or a city government that didn't address dangerous road conditions, may be held liable for an accident.
    • Hours of service requirements. Truck driver fatigue is a major cause of Florida trucking accidents. Although there are strict regulations on the length of time a driver can spend behind the wheel, truckers and their employers often disregard them, in order to make more deliveries. Your attorney should make a full investigation into the trucker’s driving logs, driving history, and company policies regarding mandatory breaks and non-driving time.
    • Crash scene investigation. Trucking companies and their insurers gather evidence and investigate the scene immediately after a crash. They have procedures in place to reduce their liability and limit the financial recovery of people injured in the crash, and get started before the victims have even left the hospital. Your attorney must immediately conduct a crash scene investigation on your behalf, this includes requesting any evidence collected by the opposition, and issue a spoliation letter to preserve evidence.
    • Proving the extent of your injuries. A collision with a semi-truck is more likely to cause severe injuries than with another passenger car. Your attorney should be able to accurately total the amount of damages you are owed, including your past medical bills, damage to your vehicle, lost income, future medical or disability costs, and a fair amount for the pain and suffering you have endured. If you've lost a loved one, your attorney should build a strong claim to recover compensation for the family’s loss and to punish the trucking company for any wrongdoing that led to an untimely death.

    From collecting evidence to filing your claim, we have the legal experience it takes to get you fair compensation for your truck accident case. Our attorneys can take over the fight on your behalf and will advise you of all of your legal options while you focus on your recovery. Simply fill out the form on this page today to make an appointment in our offices.

     

  • Can I sue a bar for over serving a drunk driver in Florida?

    pouring_beerMany people assume that a drunk driver is the only person responsible for causing a DUI accident.

    However, there are a few third parties that can be held liable for drunk driving accidents in Florida, such as the person or establishment that provided alcohol to the driver.


     

    Dram Shop Liability for Drunk Driving in Florida

    Florida allows claims against businesses that serve alcohol to certain persons under a provision known as "dram shop" laws. However, not all third parties who provide alcohol can be held liable for the costs of an alcohol-related accident.

    For instance, different liability rules apply to:

    • Bars and restaurants. Florida's dram shop law differs from other state’s laws, because in Florida, it doesn't specifically prohibit an establishment from serving alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated. Instead, the law focuses on a bar’s liability for serving alcohol to anyone under age 21, as well as the establishment knowingly providing alcohol to someone who's "habitually addicted" to alcohol.

      In both cases, the bar or restaurant could be held liable for injuries caused by intoxicated minors or drunk drivers with known addictions. This exception is based on the assumption that alcoholic drivers lack the ability to make safe and responsible decisions about drinking, and the operator serving the driver assumes that responsibility. The law even allows the drunk driver himself to collect injury and property damages from the bar that served him, as long as the bartender or provider of alcohol was aware of the driver’s alcohol dependence.
    • Liquor stores. Establishing accident liability for a liquor store, grocery store, or another vendor of closed containers of alcohol is particularly difficult, since it's harder to establish fault for products that aren't consumed immediately after purchase. However, Florida businesses that sell beer, wine, and spirits to minors or people with a known history of addiction to alcohol can be held liable just as proprietors of bars and restaurants can. In the case of minors, a bar or liquor store may be held strictly liable for damages caused by the drunk-driving minor, even if the establishment was unaware the person was a minor at the time of sale.
    • Social hosts. Hosts of parties or participants in social gatherings cannot be held liable for any injuries caused by drunk driving unless they willingly and knowingly provide alcohol to a minor. If alcohol is given to or accessed by a person under 21 at a private gathering, the host or property owner can face fines and civil damages as well as criminal charges.

    A successful dram shop claim can provide victims and their families with many different kinds of compensation.  A bar or restaurant can be held liable for the costs of emergency room care, surgery, inpatient hospital stays,  rehabilitation, medications, and in-home assistive care. In addition, a business may have to pay for the victim’s lost wages, future disability expenses, lost or damaged property, and funds to compensate the victim for unnecessary pain and suffering.

    What Recourse Do You Have?

    In order to get payment for injuries and property losses, victims have to prove that the business was aware of the circumstances in which it was providing alcohol to a minor or addicted driver, and that the actions of the waiter or bartender directly led to the accident. The victim or his family must also file a claim within the time limit allowed for Florida injury claims, otherwise the case won't be heard by the court and the victims will lose their right to legal action. Victims only have four years from the date of injury to bring a case against a dram shop—and unfortunately, evidence is often destroyed in the days and weeks following the accident.

    If you're considering filing a drunk driving case, it's best to speak with our attorneys as quickly as possible. Simply fill out the form on this page today to make an appointment in our offices, or call the number on this page to speak to an attorney about your legal options. 

     

  • Compensation for Diminished Value in a Florida Car Accident Claim

    damage to carsAs a Florida driver, you know how important it is to carry an adequate amount of car insurance. It's required by law, and buying the best coverage you can afford will also help you get medical care and insurance payments for property damage after an accident.

    Unfortunately, there are some situations in which insurance won't be enough to cover your losses after a crash.

    For instance, if you were struck while driving your brand-new car, the car will now have an accident history. Even if the repairs are excellent and the car still looks brand-new, it was involved in a collision, which can take thousands of dollars off of the resale value. In these cases, a diminished value claim can help drivers collect the difference between the original price and post-accident price of their vehicles.

    Getting Compensation in a Diminished Value Claim

    Florida law allows drivers to recover the difference between a car’s pre-crash value and its value after repairs from an insurer. Our attorneys only represent clients in diminished value claims when handling a car accident claim that has caused personal injuries.

    Compensation for the lost value of your car depends on the following factors:

    • Fault. In Florida, you can only seek compensation for diminished value from an at-fault driver's insurance company. If you are found to be at fault for the accident, you won't be able to pursue a diminished value claim against your policy.
    • Time limits. Florida drivers have four years from the date of accident to file a diminished value claim against an at-fault driver.
    • Appraisals. You'll need an accurate appraisal of the car’s value both before the accident and after the repairs have been done. An experienced appraiser uses a variety of metrics to determine the amount of value a vehicle has lost, including an analysis of the auto market in your area, inspection of the collision damage, and thorough knowledge of how damage history affects auto depreciation. Since most used cars are sold to dealers, it's helpful to obtain a trade-in value letter from several car dealers with an estimate of the value of your car. The dealership should also state the reasons why your car is valued at that trade-in price, drawing a clear line from an accident history to a lower retail value.
    • Evidence. There are many ways to prove the loss in value of your vehicle. For example, if the repairs didn't restore the car to its exact condition before the crash, you must show adequate evidence to support this, such as copies of work orders outlining which parts were used and how they affect a car’s performance. If the car doesn't look the same, you should have photos of mismatched paint, gaps in seals, and other aesthetic differences.

    Get The Right Legal Help For Your Florida Accident

    Insurance companies often fight car accident claims, denying a driver’s right to recover for their injuries or lowballing the amount of equity that has been lost. If our attorneys are handling your personal injury claim, we can inspect vehicles, review your repair documents, draft demand letters to insurance companies, and fight for your rights in court. Let us maximize the value of your car wreck claim and deal with the insurance company on your behalf. If you have been injured in a wreck and concerned about getting fair compensation for your injuries and the damage done to your vehicle, contact us today for an evaluation of your car accident case.

     

  • What Happens to the Power of Attorney When Someone Dies in Florida?

    In Florida, like in all states, the power of attorney ends when the principal/grantor dies.  A durable power of attorney is a useful document that gives your agent the power to help manage someone's legal and financial affairs during their lifetimes. When the principal/grantor dies, the power of attorney ends.  This may mean that the decedent's estate/probate takes over or a number of other possibilities. 

    The next question: who is in charge upon death? This may mean that the decedent's personal representative/executor would then take over. This may mean that the probate process would then take over. If the decedent had a revocable living trust, the successor trustee takes over and manages the decedent's affairs.  You may need legal help with this part of the process, or at least a consultation with a good probate attorney.

    You can learn more about the probate process with our free handout: Navigating the Florida Probate Process

    If you are concerned about the effects of probate upon your death, you may want to establish a revocable living trust for you and your family's benefit.

  • My Elder is on Medicaid - Can we Sell the Family Home?

    Couple standing outside the family home in FloridaIf your loved one is in the nursing home or assisted living facility and is on long-term care Medicaid in Florida (i.e., nursing home or assisted living Medicaid), you may know that the applicant is allowed to own a homestead property if the property is less than $603,000 in value (2021).  If the Medicaid recipient is single, then all of his or her income, minus $130/month (the personal needs allowance), must go to the facility as part of the patient's responsibility. This means that the Medicaid recipient may own the homestead property but that her or she cannot keep their income to actually pay for the home.  The family will have to pay for the home costs if they want to keep it.  

    But what if there is no family member that is able or willing to pay for the home's upkeep (i.e., taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance), or the family does not want to maintain the home?  This is a very common question that we can help you address.

    If the elder/family have decided to sell the homestead property, the proceeds would take the applicant off of Medicaid, only if they keep the funds.  Funds retained by the elder will become countable assets for Medicaid purposes, which will eventually take the elder off Medicaid. Importantly, if the homestead property is sold, Medicaid will not take the proceeds away, but the proceeds will take him or her off of Medicaid unless the family acts quickly.  This means that with an elder law attorney's assistance, the sales proceeds can be protected.

    Once the home is sold and the proceeds come in, the Medicaid recipient must disclose the sale to Medicaid within 10 days as a change of circumstances. In order to keep Medicaid, the sales proceeds must be legally spent or protected by the end of the following month. At or before the sale of the home, this is when you will want to start your work with an elder law attorney.  There are plenty of options in protecting the sales proceeds, such as:

    • Medicaid spend down planning
    • Personal Services Contract (legal way to pay family member for future help)
    • Pooled Trust
    • Income Producing Real Property (with attorney guidance)
    • Paying off creditors/families for legally enforceable debt

    Your options in protecting the home sale proceeds depends upon a number of issues, which should be addressed with a qualified elder law attorney before you sell your home. These issues include:

    Importantly, you cannot gift the homestead property away within 5 years of a Medicaid application, so planning in advance is very important if you want to provide an inheritance for your children. If you want to protect your home for your children's inheritance before you go into the nursing home or assisted living facility, you may want to download a copy of our free guide to protecting your Florida homestead property.

    What if one spouse is in the nursing home on Medicaid but there is a spouse at home?

    The sale of the home would not effect Medicaid for the spouse in the nursing home with the caveat that the proceeds from the sale of the home should be placed into the community spouse's name. If an attorney assisted the family with a Medicaid application, it would be best to confirm this possible plan with that attorney.

    Also, many people ask will Medicaid take the proceeds from the sale?  

    No - Medicaid will NOT take the proceeds from the sale of the home during your lifetime, but if you hold onto the proceeds, this will take you off of Medicaid.  Basically, once the home is sold, the sales proceeds will take you over the asset cap (only $2,000 for a single person, for instance) and this can take you off of Medicaid.  But, if the family/applicant acts to protect the proceeds, (i.e., spend down), the Medicaid applicant will not lose their Medicaid. When the home sales, for instance, the assets should have been legally spent/protected by the end of the month after the sale in order to ensure that Medicaid eligibility has not been disrupted. Also, the rules are different for a married couple under most circumstances.

    Can we hold onto the home with Mom/Dad on Medicaid?

    Yes. Medicaid will not take the home or force the home sell if the elder is in the nursing home or ALF and on Medicaid. No matter how long the elder is not living at home, the home will not lose its homestead, as long as the property is not rented.  The main problem is that the family should not rent the home (without legal advice) and all of the elder's income is paid to the nursing home as part of the patient's responsibility, so the family is generally stuck with all of the costs to keep the home.

    Finally, can DeLoach, Hofstra and Cavonis P.A. help us protect the proceeds?

    Yes. It does not matter where you or your elder is located in Florida. Medicaid is a statewide system and we are glad to work with and help families from all over and out of state. We have helped hundreds of clients in situations just like this and we are glad to help you out now.

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  • How Much Do We Charge for Probate?

    Many people are often shopping for attorneys upon a loved one's death. Our preferred method on starting any probate is to get together for a free initial consultation. In our initial consultation, we will likely send you a questionnaire to complete to assist everyone. We would review the completed questionnaire, review the decedent’s assets, the estate planning documents (i.e., will and/or trust), and then quote you a fee for our services. 

    Our office general charges a fee in accordance with Florida Statutes 733.6171. Under the Florida Statutes, an attorney is entitled to a “reasonable fee” to act as the estate’s attorney. Generally, a reasonable fee under the Florida Statutes is 3% of the probate estate’s inventory value on the first $1,000,000. An example is as follows:

    The estate inventory showed a gross value of $200,000, which consisted of bank accounts, stocks and bonds. According to the statute, a reasonable attorney’s fee would be $6,000 (3% of $200,000).

    Every situation is different so we will be more than happy to meet, review the probate, and quote you a fee for our services in our initial meeting so that there are no surprises.

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  • How can I make sure my estate wishes are followed after my death?

    older coupleThe thought of losing control over a home or business can be a great worry to most people, especially after they've invested so much of their time and effort into building their legacy. While it's possible to pass everything on to your loved ones, there are several precautions you'll need to take along the way—especially if your estate plan has been left open to technicalities that can rob your heirs of their inheritances.

    Provisions for the Future

    In order to make sure the correct beneficiaries inherit and that your property is divided according to your wishes, your attorney should make the proper additions to your estate plan during your lifetime. Depending on your goals, these provisions may include:

    Financial Matters

    While most attorneys merely create the financial framework for their clients, the experts at DeLoach and Hofstra help clients fund their estate plans with IRAs, 401ks, and transferring assets into trusts. We also advise you on the best use of revocable and irrevocable trusts, IRA trusts and special needs trusts to make the transmission of your holdings as painless and accurate as possible.

    Reviewing Beneficiaries

    The beneficiaries you choose to inherit your property will vary over the course of your lifetime, and the provisions you make for your relatives may change as you get older. Children who have come of age may no longer need the trusts that you established for them, while former spouses may still collect on your life insurance policies if their names haven't been removed. We can help you select the beneficiaries who are most likely to adhere to your wishes.

    Notating Gifts and Loans

    If one of your children, dependents, or beneficiaries has taken a loan from you, it may be worth notating it in your estate plan. An unpaid loan at the time of death may affect the amount each person inherits; while classifying the loan as a gift may carry tax implications.

    Avoiding Conflict

    Anticipating and avoiding common sources of conflict during inheritance helps keep family members together as grief and tensions run high. Clearly outlining the manner of your funeral arrangements and interment in advance—and notifying affected parties while you are alive—can go a long way toward preventing disruptions later. We include funeral wishes as part of our estate planning binder.

    Division of Personal Property

    In addition to carefully choosing the people who will inherit your holdings, our estate planning binder contains separate lists to name who should inherit your cherished personal property. These items may be called into question if they're not signed and dated, or do not contain enough detail to fully describe each item.

    Frequent Updates

    Unlike other attorneys, the experts at DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis offer a review of your estate plan every five years to make sure your estate plan is current and your wishes will be followed. As part of this process, we can review the designations in your healthcare directives, decide who to designate as power of attorney, remove deceased inheritors, and add provisions for new inheritors, such as new spouses or children born after the previous estate plan was established.

    The provisions enforced in an estate plan are final, and you won't be able to apologize or explain any of your choices to avoid hurt feelings after your passing. However, failing to make an estate plan in order to avoid potential negativity often creates more problems than it solves, and forces loved ones to deal with court battles and family arguments while they're trying to grieve. A thorough estate plan tells your loved ones they are special to you, and allows you to be remembered in the way that would please you most.

    We Help You Maintain Control of Your Florida Estate Plan

    The best way to avoid surprises and learn your best options is to prepare your plan with an experienced estate planning and elder law attorney. Use the convenient contact form on this page to schedule a consultation to speak to an attorney about the best way to protect your future wishes.

  • My Elder Just Went to the Nursing Home - What Will Happen Next?

    Part of our elder law practice involves helping people after a change of health, such as their parent or spouse having a medical downturn (stroke, fall, etc.) and going to the hospital.  After a hospital stay, an elder is typically discharged to get rehabilitation in a skilled nursing facility.  This is a very difficult and confusing time, which we call the “long-term care maze.”  Navigating this maze is difficult because:

    • You have likely never done this before;
    • You and your family may not be prepared (can you ever?);
    • People (friends, family, neighbors) come at you with bad advice on things you should be doing;
    • You are concerned about Medicare, Medicaid, powers of attorney and more; and
    • You do not know what the next steps are.

    So now that your loved one went to the hospital and is in the nursing home getting rehab, what questions should you be looking at?

    • How long will they be there?
    • What type of health insurance do they have?
    • How expensive will rehab be?
    • How are they responding to rehabilitation?
    • Are the proper incapacity and estate planning documents in place?
    • Should we apply for Medicaid?
    • Will VA benefits help?
    • What will happen next?

    Let’s discuss each of these questions in a little more detail:

    How long will he/she be there?

    Generally, the elder’s ability to stay in rehabilitation is based upon their ability to get stronger and improve. The purpose of rehabilitation at this point is to get as strong as they can or to prevent further decline. At some point, whether through a decline in health, dementia or just general improvement, the elder's health insurance (i.e., Medicare or HMO) will stop paying for their stay in the rehabilitation facility.

    What type of health insurance do they have?

    This is very important as it may tell us how long the elder will be able to stay in rehab. The elder will likely either have Medicare with a supplement or a Medicare replacement policy (HMO or PPO). Medicare will pay up to 100 days of rehab with a co-pay of $185.50/day (2021) for days 21-100. The co-pays may be picked up by the Medicare supplemental policy depending on the Medigap plan; plans A and B do not cover the skilled nursing co-pay. An HMO or PPO will have a similar payment program based upon the individual policy. Generally, Medicare is more generous in allowing rehab days than HMOs.  Regardless of health insurance, it is extremely rare that the elder will stay the full 100 days in rehab covered by their health insurance, which means now is the time to start planning on where they will go next. Learn more about Medicare and Long-Term Care here.

    How is the elder responding to rehabilitation?

    Health insurance only pays to get the patient stronger and will not pay if he or she is not willing to participate, is too sick, or cannot participate in rehab due to dementia. The family must work with the facility to make sure the elder is participating and getting stronger. If the elder cannot or will not participate in their therapy, for instance, the health insurance will stop covering the rehabilitation.

    How much will skilled nursing cost?

    The cost for skilled nursing will vary based upon the health insurance, but it can get very expensive if you are not working with the business office and social worker to keep track of how the elder is progressing, the type of health insurance, and other factors. When the health insurance (i.e., Medicare or the HMO) stops paying, the cost for long-term nursing care is around $300-$350/day.  When the health insurance stops paying for rehabilitation, this generally means that the elder is now in the skilled nursing facility for long-term care.

    Are the proper incapacity and estate planning documents in place?

    Now is definitely the time to make sure the elder has a last will and testament, durable power of attorney (done by an elder law attorney), designation of healthcare surrogate and living will. It may be time to update these documents if they are over 5 years old, or at least reviewed by an elder law attorney for accuracy, proper execution and relevance. Not all powers of attorney are created equal, for instance, and some do not allow the elder to protect their assets from the high cost of the nursing home.

    Will VA benefits help?

    A wartime veteran or his/her surviving spouse may be eligible for VA benefits when there are unreimbursed medical benefits. Please see our page on veteran's benefits and long-term care. At this point, it is likely that the VA will not help with nursing home/rehab costs, but it can never be too early to look for the veteran's military discharge paperwork, for instance. We can generally say that VA benefits will provide the most help when a veteran is trying to stay home or looking for help with the cost of an assisted living facility.

    What will happen next?

    When the rehabilitation portion ends, the elder has three choices:

    1. Go home if they are well enough;
    2. Go to an assisted living facility; or
    3. Stay in the nursing home (very expensive!).

    The ability to do any one of these may be very difficult. Will they be safe at home? Will Medicaid pay for home care? Will Veterans benefits help? What is the right facility? All of these questions, and more, are a part of the long-term care maze.

    Importantly, our law firm is here to help you navigate the long-term care maze. With our health advocate on staff, we help make sure the elder is in the right place, getting the right care and then taking the next steps, through the maze, together.

    Should we apply for Medicaid?

    This answer will depend on a number of factors such as where the elder goes next, their mental condition, their assets and their income.  Now would be the time to meet with our law firm to make sure you are prepared to navigate the long-term care maze, protect assets, apply for benefits, and be prepared for will come next.  Also, see the our list of Seven Lies Your Friends Tell You about Florida Medicaid. You may want to lean about effective spend down planning as well.

    What about moving to assisted living?

    If the elder has been declining or may not be safe to go home, the family may want to take advantage of the elder's time in the nursing home and apply for Medicaid. Please read our report on obtaining Florida Medicaid for the assisted living facility. Veteran's benefits, such as "Aid and Attendance" may also be helpful in paying for your elder's assisted living facility as well.

    When your elder has experienced a downturn in health, our law firm can help you answer all of these questions, and more, to make sure your elder gets the proper care, the assets are protected, and the family gets the help they need in making the right decisions.

    Can Our Law Firm Help?

    Yes! People hire us all across Florida and further due to our expertise. Medicaid is a statewide program and we have helped families protect assets and apply for Medicaid across the state of Florida. We charge $200 for an hour long consultation with an attorney to see if now is the time to apply for Medicaid and what, if anything, can or should be done to protect the elder and their assets. In our consultation, we will review the assets, discuss health and discharge planning and review the relevent estate planning documents to make sure planning is available. If Medicaid is available and adviseable, we would quote a fixed fee for any further work.

    Download our Free Book!

    I have written a free book available for download that will address issues such as Medicare, placement issues, long-term care options, Medicaid and more. Don't Lose Your Nest Egg to a Florida Nursing Home is available for free download.

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  • How Often Should You Revisit Your Florida Estate Plan?

    It's important to review your existing estate plan regularly. A good rule of thumb is to go over all of your documents every three-to-five years, although residents who have a large number of assets may wish to review their estate plans more often. However, you shouldn't wait to make changes to your documents if you've experienced a life event that could significantly impact your future wishes.

    Life Events That Can Affect Your Florida Estate Plan

    senior couple

    A person’s needs, family members, and possessions change considerably over the years. Florida law allows for the protection of children, spouses, businesses, and even pet care planning, but these protections will only remain in place as long as you keep the designations on your estate plan current.

    Major life events that can impact your estate plan include:

    • Marriage or divorce. While the law allows some direct inheritance of shared property for spouses, your spouse will not automatically become your beneficiary. If you want your spouse to inherit your property; have access to your life insurance and brokerage accounts; and make end-of-life decisions for you, you must specifically name him or her in your estate plan. In addition, any former spouses whom you no longer wish to inherit assets or make decisions on your behalf should be removed from these documents as soon as possible.
    • Birth and adoption. As your family grows, you may wish to expand your estate plan to accommodate new family members. Not only should you specifically name your children and grandchildren as heirs, but you should stipulate who will care for minor children if you die before the child turns 18. There are additional protections available if your child or grandchild has special needs; requires funds for education; or if you wish to provide for a child from a previous marriage.
    • Buying a home. Any significant acquisition of property, real estate, or other assets should be included in an estate plan. For most people, a home is the largest life purchase they will ever make, and an estate planning attorney can advise them on how to pass on the property to a surviving spouse or children after their death. You should also update an existing plan if you move to another state; purchase real estate in another state; or wish to minimize the amount of estate taxes your beneficiaries will owe.
    • Opening or closing a business. If you're a partner in a business concern, you can outline your wishes for succession; who should receive your holdings; and who should take over the day-to-day operations of the business. If the opening of the business involved borrowing a large amount of money, an attorney can prevent bill collectors from seeking debt repayment out of your personal holdings. If your business was sold or dissolved, an attorney can excise any professional beneficiaries from your will.
    • Changes in your health. If you've been diagnosed with a degenerative condition or another health concern that can affect your decision-making ability, carefully consider who should care for you if you become incapacitated. Your estate plan should include powers of attorney for finances, designations of health care surrogate, and a living will—for both you and your spouse. Updating your documents may also allow your family to protect your assets in the event you need long-term care from Medicaid.
    • Changing insurance policies. Update your estate plan any time you buy a new insurance policy or make a drastic change in your coverage. Beneficiaries designated in life insurance policies generally take precedence over those named in wills or trusts, but ensuring that all documents agree can save confusion and possible court costs later.

    Changes to the Law

    Many estate plans do not age very will due to changes in the law, so we generally say that you should review your estate plan with your attorney every 5 years. For instance, Florida drastically changed their durable power of attorney statute in 2011 and also changed the Designation of Healthcare Surrogate in 2015. While the Federal estate tax exemption is now very high (i.e., $5.49 million per person in 2017), your older estate planning documents may need drastic changes as well.

    Legal Trends May Change

    While most estate planning tries to save your family time and money by avoiding probate, other trends have recently emerged in estate planning. For instance, your estate plan can help protect your children's inheritance from their creditors, ex-spouses or even the high cost of long-term care.  If you want to protect your assets from the high cost of nursing home care, you may want to consider an irrevocable asset protection trust as well.

    We Can Help With Important Decisions

    Failure to update wills and trust documents can cause confusion and financial problems for your family members down the road. For example, if you've named a guardian to your children who has predeceased you, your surviving family members may be forced to choose a guardian amongst themselves.

    Reviewing your estate plan at regular intervals helps ensure that your wishes are followed and that your beneficiaries receive proper care after your passing. We can review the designations in your will, trusts, and healthcare directives, and advise you of changes in state or federal inheritance laws to minimize your tax liability. Contact us today to discuss your future wishes with a member of our legal team.

     

  • Will I have to pay income taxes on my Florida Inheritance?

    If your loved one recently died, you may be concerned about probate, trust settlement and other issues. Among those includes tax issues - both estate taxes and income taxes. On income taxes, the receipt of an inheritance is not income to the beneficiary.  Our income tax system is based solely upon working for your income. An inheritance is not something that you worked for, so the receipt of an inheritance is not taxed to you as income. 

    One possible exception to this rule is the receipt of an IRA or an Annuity. Once monies are removed from an IRA or an annuity, there may be taxable consequences to the beneficiary as the assets have likely appreciated in value.

    The likely tax return that an heir should be concerned with is the estate tax, but an estate tax only applies if the decedent's estate is worth more than $11.20 million (2018).  Most people do not need to worry about this as most estates, by far, are below level.

    If you want to learn more about probate and the probate process, feel free to download our Free Guide to Navigating the Florida Probate Process.

  • How can I avoid probate court proceedings in Florida?

    probate documentUnder Florida law, certain assets must go through probate court proceedings after an individual’s death. This is a way to keep track of all of the deceased person’s assets, pay any outstanding debts or taxes, and ensure that property is legally transferred to beneficiaries. The biggest drawbacks of the probate process are that it can take a long time for the beneficiaries to gain possession of assets due to a fairly cumbersome court process.

    Some Assets Do Not Go Through Probate in Florida

    It is our general opinion that good estate planning generally tries to avoid probate, although there are worse things than actually having assets go through probate.  In our opinion, what is much worse than probate is having assets go to the wrong people or having heirs fight over assets upon your death. Compared to probate, having these two things happen can be much worse than the probate process!

    In order to know what assets go through probate, you need to look to how each asset is held:

    • Probate Assets. Probate assets in the decedent's own, individual name.  These assets are distributed according to the decedent's last will and testament if they had one, and if not, then according to the Florida laws of intestacy (i.e., the decedent's family) if no will existed.
    • Joint tenancy property. Property that is owned jointly by the deceased and someone else may be passed directly to the surviving owner under a law called the right of survivorship. This can be a house that is owned by a couple, or a joint bank account with two named owners. In order to avoid probate, the survivor must have his or her name listed on the joint tenancy property and no other beneficiaries are on the title.
      • Should you add your children to your property?  Generally, the answer is a NO! Adding children as co-owners of your property is frequently (but not always) a bad idea.  Before you add a child to your assets, including your home, speak with your estate planning attorney first.
    • Beneficiary-designated accounts. Florida law allows residents to add a payable-on-death designation to checking accounts, savings accounts, retirement accounts, certificates of deposit, and life insurance policies. As long as the deceased person has designated a beneficiary, the money in the account may be transferred to the named person without probate. 
      • Should I do this on all of my assets? Generally, this can be a mixed bag and very problematic in certain situations. With all of the assets having beneficiary designations when someone dies, this leaves no one in charge of the estate. For instance, who is in charge of the funeral expenses? Who is in charge of the decedent's taxes? Hiring the accountant? Paying household bills? If nothing goes through probate (where an executor is in charge) or if a living trust is not used (where a trustee is in charge), this may create huge problems! One distinct advantage to having assets that go through probate, or assets being owned by a living trust, is that someone can be in charge of your assets and make sure your final expenses/taxes/costs can all be paid from one common pot of money before being distributed to beneficiaries. One misunderstood aspect of estate planning is that the executor ("personal representative" in Florida) is nominated by your last will and testament but appointed by the probate court. If no assets go through probate, no one is in charge of anything, which can be problematic with families that do not get along, for instance.
    • Revocable Living Trusts. In Florida, assets that are held in a living trust may pass to beneficiaries without probate court proceedings. These trusts must be created before your death, and all assets—including real estate, antiques, vehicles, and so on—must be transferred into the trust under the terms of the trust document. You'll remain the trustee until your death, at which time your named successor will be in control of the assets in the trust. Generally speaking, trust planning is usually the best way to create your estate plan if you want to avoid probate upon your death.
    • Enhanced Life Estate Deeds. Florida is one of the few states that allow enhanced life estate deeds, sometimes referred to as "Lady Bird deeds."  These deeds allow residents to preserve their eligibility for Medicaid during their lifetimes while keeping valuable assets in the family. After death, the real property named in a Lady Bird deed passes automatically to beneficiaries without probate—meaning that assets cannot be taken by the state to recoup any Medicaid benefits used by the decedent.
      • We sometimes use enhanced life estate deeds for simple estate matters and living trusts for more complicated matters. Basically, enhanced life estate deeds do not cover contingent beneficiaries very well.  As an example, Mom creates an enhanced life estate deed transferring her home to her three children upon her death. If one of the children dies before Mom, that child's 1/3rd share would need to be probated. Living trusts cover contingencies while deeds simply do not.

    Florida generally has two different types of probate - one is easy, one is much more complicated - and probate can take 5-8 months under most scenarios. Some estates won't need to go through formal probate at all. If a deceased person had no assets in their own, individual name, then no probate is required.  If a person leaves behind few assets, beneficiaries may be able to go through a shortened version of probate known as summary administration. If the holdings of the estate aren't eligible for either of these simpler methods of administration, beneficiaries must go through formal probate.  The key here is seeing a good probate attorney to direct you when the time comes.

    Are you looking at probate now?

    If you are looking at a probate situation now, such as when a loved one has passed away, we have a lot more information on our Florida probate page.  You can also download our free book, Navigating the Florida Probate Process, as well.

    Legal Advice Can be Very, Very Helpful

    If you are reading this, you may be trying to avoid probate without using an attorney. While that may work for some situations, attorneys can be helpful for so many reasons. In particular, good legal advice can help avoid conflict between heirs, make sure assets go to the right person, make sure assets go to the beneficiaries tax free, make sure your incapacity planning is done correctly (like your durable power of attorney and advance directives) and so many other things. Do not leave your estate up to chance - get a good attorney to walk you through your plan to make sure you, and your family, are protected!

    Let Us Help With Your Estate Planning

    The best way to protect your holdings and provide for your family members is to create a Florida estate plan tailored to your specific needs. Contact us today to speak to a member of our legal team about your ideas for the future.

     

  • Do I need an attorney to help settle my mother/father's trust?

    People create revocable living trusts in Florida in order to avoid the (mostly) cumbersome probate process. But in avoiding probate, does this mean that the successor Trustee avoids all attorneys? The answer depends on a number of factors.  The reality is that "settling" a trust may not be as easy as you may think, but it may not be that difficult either.

    One of the first questions on whether an attorney is ended to settle a trust is how complicated are things?

    • Are there many beneficiaries?
    • Are there a lot of assets?
    • Is a charity a beneficiary?
    • Did the decedent die with creditors?
    • Are there disgruntled (or potentially disgruntled) heirs?
    • What is the trustee's capacity to handle financial and legal matters?

    These are some of the most important questions on the need for the successor trustee to hire an attorney.  Basically, the more complicated matters are, the greater likelihood that the trustee should hire counsel to help them settle a trust.  One of the most important reasons is that the trustee has likely never done this before, and they do not know what they do not know. The trustee, importantly, is a fiduciary with a great deal of legal responsibility. The trustee's duties include, but are not limited to:

    • Paying the decedent's creditors
    • Paying/filing the decedent's last tax return
    • Depositing the will with the probate court
    • Filing a notice of trust with the local court
    • Providing an accounting to all beneficiaries
    • Acting as an impartial person, acting on in the trust's benefit
    • Acting as a reasonably prudent person would in finalizing matters

    In simple situations with a family that all gets along, settling a trust is not necessarily difficult for those who are capable of making sound financial decisions. If this is going to be too difficult for a family member or if the successor trustee is receiving lots of grief from other trust beneficiaries, it would be advisable to hire an attorney. The attorney would be paid from the trust estate, importantly, as this assists the successor trustee.

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  • When am I able to act as the executor for the estate?

    When someone dies in Florida, we often get phone calls regarding their loved one's bank or financial accounts. Typically, the family is at the decedent's bank and the bank is telling them that they need to become the executor (also known as personal representative). The family may even have the last will and testament, but what are the next steps?

    One important aspect of the Florida probate process is the estate and the ability act for and bind the estate. First, the probate estate extends only to assets in the decedent's own, individual name.  These assets are distributed according to the decedent's last will and testament. If the decedent did not have a last will and testament, his or her estate is distributed to the decedent's family in accordance with Florida's law of intestacy.

    Next, the last will and testament only nominates the personal representative (a/k/a the "executor").  The personal representative is only able to act upon the estate assets once appointed by the probate court. To confirm, the nominated personal representative is only able to act after petition and appointment by the probate court. This means that one of the first steps to the probate process is finding and hiring the right probate attorney. Once appointed by the probate court, the personal representative is issued "letters of administration" which will now enable him or her to act on the estate's behalf.

    The process of having someone appointed as the personal representative by the probate court typically takes 2-3 weeks in Pinellas County. The attorney will generally need the following information in order to prepare the court petition:

    • Original Last Will and Testament
    • Original Death Certificate (short form)
    • Address of all heirs
    • General list of assets that needs to be probated

    Once this information is gathered, the probate attorney can move forward with a Petition for Administration, which will admit the will to probate and allow the personal representative to act.

    If you are dealing with the recent death of a loved one, you may want to read a copy of our free book, Navigating the Florida Probate Process.

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  • Will my loved one get good care in the nursing home when on Medicaid?

    We know that many people end up on Medicaid in the nursing home due to the high cost of nursing home care, which can exceed $9,000 per month. But will Medicaid affect your loved one's care?

    First, it is illegal for a nursing home or other care provider to discriminate against a patient due to payor source. This means that the nursing home care providers do not care if your loved one is there through Medicaid or through private pay. I once had a nursing home owner tell me that they preferred Medicaid as a payor source over people privately paying as they knew Medicaid would pay them while the private payers would not always be as forthcoming with the funds. 

    Next, whether a nursing home accepts Medicaid does not dictate whether it is a good or bad facility. There are 83 nursing homes in Pinellas County, for instance, and all 83 nursing homes accept Medicaid.

    Also, Medicaid also will not dictate where your loved one will receive care. This means that you can pick any nursing home you want and the state of Florida does not care.  Each facility, however, may have a limit as to the number of Medicaid beds, so depending upon the time of year, there may be a wait list for Medicaid beds.

    The truth about Medicaid and Medicaid planning in Florida is that protecting assets with an elder law attorney will not affect your loved one's care, although it may affect placement issues at certain times.

    One final piece to this puzzle is that getting good care in any nursing home or assisted living facility is not easy. Care will vary based upon the nursing home staff, doctors, CNAs, administration, corporate governance and more.  This is why we have a care coordinator on staff as part of our life care planning practice. Our care coordinator's job is to help you and your loved one get good care in the right facility. Our care coordinator has been a social worker in local nursing homes for over 30 years and she knows what good care looks like. With our law firm, you will not need to worry about good care for your loved one, or the stress of being an advocate, all alone in the medical system, without help.

    If you want to learn more about our Medicaid and life care planning practice, please feel free to attend one of our free educational seminars at our office.