Tom and Cathy (an imaginary couple) are married and have no children together. Tom has two adult children from a prior marriage; Cathy has no children. The couple reside in a Florida home which Tom owned before they got married. As a result, title to the home is only in Tom's name. Sadly, Tom dies unexpectedly of a heart-attack. At the time of his death, Tom had no Last Will and Testament. Cathy goes to see an estate attorney to find out about her rights regarding the home she and Tom had lived in for over ten years--she leaves in shock!
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.
A common question which we encounter in our Florida estate and probate practice is whether a person's estate will owe any money to Medicaid upon the person's death. Usually the reason for their question is that the person has received Medicaid benefits prior to their death. Many times, those benefits were as a result of Medicaid paying for the deceased person's long term care in their final years.
In Florida, a person's homestead is their principal place of residence and as homestead, the property has certain benefits and protections. These include: (1) exemption for creditor claims; (2) exemption from certain real estate taxes; and (3) protection of spouse and minor children. Prior blogs on this site have addressed the first two benefits listed; this blog will address the third.
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.
The laws in Florida governing homestead real property can be complex and confusing. This is particularly true when the homestead is titled in the name of only one spouse who dies and does not leave a Will or Trust devising the homestead to the surviving spouse. This is not a scenario which most spouses would want.
As an estate planning lawyer in Florida, I'm often asked by clients if they can leave their estate to whomever they choose. For the most part, a person can leave his or her estate to whomever they choose but there are some exceptions.
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 certain situations, Florida property owners recognize the benefits of owning real property in a Limited Liability Company (LLC). In particular, such ownership can protect the owner's other assets from liability in a lawsuit. It may also make transfer at death easier. However, in doing their estate planning attorneys can be asked by clients whether they should title their primary residence in an LLC.