Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Lightning Strikes?

With the 2016 Hurricane season over and 2017 season soon to be on us, it is a good idea to review your homeowner’s policy for coverage exclusions. Your insurance agent has probably let you know whether you live in a flood zone and whether additional flood insurance was mandatory and highly advised. But, what about lightning?

Typically lightning strikes, as well as fire caused by lightning, are covered as perils in almost all homeowner’s insurance policies. But, there may be exclusions. Read the fine print. For example, your policy may not cover damage from an electrical surge that occurs when lightning strikes the power line that runs to your home.

A lightning strike can create a fire inside or outside your home, ruin sensitive appliances, electronics and wiring inside the walls, and even shock and injure occupants.

If a lightning strike happens, the most important thing is to safeguard your family and yourself.

•Make sure your house is equipped with smoke and fire detectors. Lightning is so hot that fires caused by direct strikes are instantaneous. If you smell smoke or feel heat during a storm, evacuate the building immediately.

•Make sure all of your appliances are plugged into grounded outlets that offer surge protection. This will not protect against a direct strike, but it may help if there is an electrical surge in a storm. For maximum safety, unplug computers, televisions, microwaves and other electric appliances during storms.

•If you live in a high strike area, consult professionals about installing lightning rods or whole house surge protection.

Even with such precautions, it only takes one direct lightning strike for your home to be damaged.

Contact us to discuss your coverage and to file a claim for damages incurred by a lightning strike.

Holding Title to Assets in a Living Trust

The primary purpose of having your assets in a living trust is to avoid the expense and delay of the probate process. Keep in mind that anything that you own which is not jointly held or in a revocable living trust at the time of your death will go through probate . Therefore, if you have created a revocable living trust by executing a trust agreement, the objective is to transfer the ownership of suitable assets into the name of the trustee of your living trust, so that these assets will not be involved in the probate process.

Your living trust can’t have any beneficial effects, if it is unfunded (empty). The trust can’t deal with property that it does not own. So, it is an essential step in making your trust effective to transfer ownership (title) of property to the trust’s name.

Most of your assets should go into your living trust. Any assets which are solely in your name, outside of your trust will be subject to the probate process. Transferring assets into your trust is usually very simple. Basically, there are two types of property that are transferred into a trust – property with ownership (title) documents and those without such title documents. Each type of property is treated differently when it comes to transferring it to your trust.

1. Property Without Ownership (Title) Documents

Many types of property don’t have title documents, including all kinds of household possessions and furnishings, clothing, jewelry, furs, tools, farm equipment, antiques, electronic and computer equipment, art works, bearer bonds, cash, precious metals, and collectibles. Some estate planners suggest that you can transfer these items to the trust simply by listing them on a trust schedule and that no other action is needed. However, we recommend that such items be listed on a schedule attached to a transfer document such as a Bill Of Sale, which simply and legally formalizes the transfer. Enclosed is a Bill of Sale for you to sign when you come in to sign the deed to your house.

2. Property With Ownership (Title) Documents

After your trust agreement has been signed, witnessed, and notarized, it is essential that you formally re-register the ownership of all items of property, that you want to transfer into your trust, which have ownership documents (title papers). Here is a list of some of the types of property which must have the title documents re-registered, if you want such property transferred into your trust:

(i) Bank Accounts

(ii) Business Interests

(iii) Motor Vehicles

(iv) Real Estate (Real Property)

(v) Stocks, Bonds, & Mutual Funds

Your trust won’t be effective for any property with an ownership document which is not re-registered in the trust’s name. The new document of title must show that the trustee – not you, the grantor – is the legal owner of the property. If the trustee isn’t the legal owner of the property, the trustee (and successor trustee) has no legal authority to deal with the property for the benefit of the beneficiaries and no authority to transfer that property to the beneficiaries as your trust directs.

If the title to property listed on the trust schedule remains in your name (you fail to re-register it to your trust), that property will pass under the terms of your will. Since it’s not usually specifically listed in your will, it will go to the residuary beneficiary, who, of course, may not be the person who you intended to receive it. Even if your residuary beneficiary in your will is your trust, that property will have to pass through the probate process. If you have no will, any property not transferred to your trust will be left under the terms of the state’s intestate succession law. In either case, it will be subject to all the expense and delay of the probate process – the very things you are trying to avoid.

Our firm can discuss how a living trust will help you make distribution of your assets after your death without going through probate, and can discuss how to fund the trust to make it effective. Contact us and arrange an appointment to discuss this important subject.

THE TEN (REALLY ELEVEN) COMMANDMENTS TO FOLLOW WHEN APPEARING FOR A DEPOSITION OR SWORN STATEMENT

Whether you are pursuing a personal injury or insurance claim, or are a debtor in bankruptcy, or a plaintiff or defendant in a lawsuit, you will likely be required to answer questions under oath. On those occasions, remember that the person asking you the questions is, in all probability, not on your side. It is in your best interest to have an attorney represent your interests when you are subpoenaed for a deposition or requested to provide a sworn statement.

Your attorney will be able to object to irrelevant lines of questioning, redirect the deposition into appropriate areas, and prevent the questioner from putting you on Trial through a simple sworn statement.

Your attorney will walk you through the deposition process and help you understand the following guidelines:

1. Do not volunteer information; answer only the question asked. No matter how much you want to help the case, avoid the temptation to expand your answer beyond the question asked.

2. Listen to the question asked. Never interrupt a question with an answer.

3. Do not answer any question unless you understand the question and the information requested by the question. If you do not understand a question, you should request that the question be repeated or clarified.

4. Do not guess when answering a question. All that you are required to provide is your best recollection. If you do not know or remember the answer to a particular question, say so. Just because you are asked a question does not mean that the question has an answer and that you must have an answer.

5. Do not bring any documents to the deposition/sworn statement unless there is a written request specifying the documents you are to have with you, or unless your lawyer so advises. When presented with documents or exhibits during the deposition/sworn statement, take time to review the materials to be sure that they are genuine and take time to think about what the document represents.

6. Listen, concentrate and focus on the questions asked. A deposition/sworn statement is not the time to engage in small talk or jokes. If you get too comfortable with the person asking the questions, you may not realize what you have answered.

7. Be polite and never become angry or hostile. By becoming angry or hostile you restrict your capacity to listen and concentrate on the questions asked.

8. When faced with a leading question, that is a question that suggests the answer, or a hypothetical question, that is a question that assumes facts, be sure that the entire substance of the question is accurate before answering “yes.” If any part of these kinds of questions is inaccurate, then either correct the inaccuracy before answering or simply answer “no.”

9. Do not hesitate to correct errors you may make during the course of the deposition/sworn statement. Everyone miss-speaks and forgets things.

10. Respond to each question; but at the same time make the question mean what you want it to mean and answer the question the way you want to answer the question.

11. TELL THE TRUTH! Do not lie, exaggerate, or overstate what you know.

Remember that it is in your best interest to have an attorney represent your interests when you are going to give a deposition or sworn statement.

If you have received a subpoena, contact us today to look out for your best interest.

2017 Alimony Reform Legislation

The regular session of the Florida Legislature convened on March 7, 2017. Once again, alimony reform is high on the list of bills to be considered by both the House and Senate.

Two alimony reform bills, House Bill 283 and Senate Bill 412, have been referred to committee. The focus of the proposed legislation is to attempt to create predictability in the outcome of cases based on the parties’ income, assets, needs, ability to pay and standard of living. Presently, the courts enjoy broad discretion in setting the length of alimony payments and the amount of those payments.

Many forms of alimony exist as a matter of state statute and case law. They include permanent periodic alimony, durational alimony, rehabilitative alimony, bridge-the-gap alimony and nominal alimony. Generally, permanent periodic alimony continues until the recipient spouse either remarries, dies or engages in a supportive relationship. Decades ago this type of alimony made sense because societal pressures were such that a spouse, if divorced, would remarry. Societal norms have dramatically changed. Now couples not only routinely live together, unmarried but they, in many cases, have children while in an unmarried status.

The proposed bills presently pending in the Florida legislature would remove permanent periodic alimony as an option for the courts and replace it with durational alimony. Durational alimony is to be paid over a set period of time, such as: one year, five years or ten years. The proposed legislation would create a formula that would calculate a range of options based on the length of the marriage. A long-term marriage would result in a lengthy duration of payments.

The amount of alimony would also be the subject of a formula based on the payor spouse’s income as compared to the payee spouse’s income. The disparity between the two incomes would be applied to a mathematical formula which would create a narrowed range of payments for the court to consider. Essentially, durational alimony would be the only form of alimony remaining, should the present legislation be passed. Rehabilitative alimony, bridge-the-gap alimony and nominal alimony would no longer exist.

In past years, similar bills to the ones now pending have been passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives only to be vetoed by the governor. This occurred on two prior occasions. The lack of guidance under the present law breeds litigation and tremendous disparity in judicial rulings under the same facts and circumstances driven by a particular judge’s ideology and personal experiences. In order for justice, equity and equality to prevail, the alimony statutes in Chapter 61 must be reformed to reflect the societal norms of our times.

Learn more about how Doran Sims Wolfe & Ciochetti can help you with Alimony .