Article X, Section 4 of the Constitution of Florida provides protection against the claims of creditors for a person's homestead, i.e. their principal residence. In essence, if a homeowner owes money to a creditor, that creditor cannot attach or force sale of the residence in order to receive payment. The same concept applies if the owner dies owning a homestead. In other words, if a homeowner owes a creditor (such as a credit card, medical bills, etc.), when the person dies, the creditor usually cannot collect against the homestead. The homestead is exempt form the claims of creditors.
We often have clients come into the office to discuss their estate planning. Not uncommonly, the term "homestead" will come up and after some discussion, it becomes clear that there is confusion on use of the term. One of the reasons for this confusion is that, from a legal perspective in Florida, homestead can refer to different things depending on the context.
As an estate lawyer, it is not uncommon to have clients ask that their Will or Trust be prepared directing that their primary residence (i.e. their homestead) be sold upon their death. Often their motivation will be to avoid disputes among their children over the home. Sometimes, it is because they believe none of their children want the home, so why not just sell it? From an estate planners point of view, the question becomes whether this is a good idea.
Florida estate planning attorneys are often asked whether assets held in a Living Trust, also known as a Revocable Trust, are protected from the creditors of the Settlor of the Trust (i.e. the person who set it up). As with so many questions under the law, the answer is "It depends."
In Florida probate, certain types of property are exempt and will be received by the surviving spouse, if there is one, and if there is no spouse, then by the decedent's children. However, steps must be taken to protect entitlement to exempt property.