GETTING YOUR “LEGAL AFFAIRS” IN ORDER

When working with the family of the recently deceased, the most common complaint we hear is that they are overwhelmed by paperwork after the decedent’s death. We recommend that you consider spending some time getting your “legal affairs” in order. This will make life easier in the long run for your heirs.

Our specific recommendation is that you write a letter to your potential Personal Representative (what Florida calls your Executor) explaining to your Personal Representative all aspects of your affairs and providing to your Personal Representative all of the information which you think he or she needs to know. In many cases, you are the only one with the “big picture”, and are best prepared to organize the information which your Personal Representative will need at your death. This will greatly simplify and streamline the transfer of your assets.

We suggest that you keep the originals of your important papers in a safe deposit box. This should include your original Will, Durable Power of Attorney, Living Will, Medical Surrogate Appointment, stock certificates, bonds, insurance policies, marriage and death certificates, and other similar papers, and almost as important in this internet age, of a list of websites you frequently access with updated passwords. Copies of those papers should be in separate files in a file cabinet which has a key and which is located in your home. The information which will be extremely helpful to your future personal representative includes the following:

1. Safe Deposit Box location and key.

2. A copy of your current Last Will and Testament and the location of the original.

3. Original Living Will with another original to be held in your safe deposit box.

4. Burial instructions and arrangements made, including prepayments and rights to which you are due.

5. A copy of any Trust Agreements which you have established or for which you are the beneficiary. The originals should be in your safe deposit box.

6. Social Security records for you and your spouse.

7. Copy of your Marriage Certificate with the original being held in your safe deposit box.

8. Copy of Pre-Nuptial or Post-Nuptial Agreements with location of originals noted.

9. Divorce/Separation Agreement.

10. Passports for you and your spouse.

11. Real Estate Information. For each property owned by address:

(a) Copy of most recent tax bill for each parcel owned.

(b) Where your file is containing your Deed, Title Insurance Policy, Mortgage information, and other information regarding the property.

(c) Copy of your Mortgage Payment Coupon indicating the name, address and telephone number of the Lender and the Mortgage Loan Number.

12. Automobile Title or Lease Agreement, and Boat Title, and location of each.

13. List of all credit cards held including names of creditors, addresses, telephone numbers and account numbers. A copy of a statement regarding each credit card held would be helpful.

14. Banking information, including name and location of each bank in which you have an account, and account numbers.

15. Recent Brokerage and Mutual Fund Statements – copy of one statement for each account.

16. Retirement Asset Statements, IRA, Keogh, Company Pension Plan Asset Statements.

17. Partnership Agreements, Leases or other contracts to which you are bound.

18. Copies of last year’s Federal and State Income Tax Returns.

19. Notes Receivable, Notes Payable and other loan agreements.

20. Life Insurance Policies (with master list of each policy).

21. List of the name, address and telephone number of your lawyer, accountant, financial planner, stockbroker, insurance agent, including fax numbers of those individuals.

Putting all this information together may seem like a lot of trouble to you, but at least you know where everything is. Think of how much trouble it will be for someone who follows you who has no idea where these things are or even if they exist. By so doing, you will enable your Personal Representative and family members to carry out your wishes quickly, efficiently and with as little burden as possible.

Please call our office for an appointment to discuss and have prepared the documents you will need during your life (Powers of appointment, Medical Surrogate appointments, etc.) and after (Last Will and Testament, Revocable Trusts) to make handling your affairs straight forward and as uncomplicated as possible.

THINGS TO KNOW AS YOU CONTEMPLATE BANKRUPTCY

All individual debtors who file bankruptcy must participate in credit counseling within six months before filing for bankruptcy and complete a financial management instructional course after filing bankruptcy. These courses can be completed online from your home computer.

At the time of filing, a means test (analysis of your income and expenses) to determine if you qualify to file a Chapter 7 or if you must file Chapter 13. In applying the means test, the courts will look at your average income for the 6 months prior to filing and compare it to the median income for Florida. If the income is below the median, then you may choose Chapter 7. If your income exceeds the median, the remaining parts of the means test will be applied to determine if you can file Chapter 7 or if you must file Chapter 13.

To begin the bankruptcy process you must itemize your current income sources; major financial transactions for the last two years; monthly living expenses; debts (secured and unsecured); and property (all assets and possessions, not just real estate). You should also collect your tax returns for the last two years, deeds to any real estate you own, your car(s) titles, and the documents for any loans you may have.

Once you have gathered this information, we will help you determine which property is exempt from seizure. In Florida, exemptions include:

• Your house, mobile or modular home, or condominium (may not exceed half-acre in a municipality or 160 acres elsewhere). The exemption is limited to $160,375, unless you occupied this Florida homestead and previous Florida homesteads for a continuous 1,215 day period.

• Personal property such as prepaid accounts like hurricane savings, medical savings and college education trust deposits; motor vehicle up to $1,000; pre-need funeral contract deposits; any personal property up to $1,000 or $4,000 if no homestead claimed

• 100 percent of wages earned by the head of the household, up to $750 a week; federal government employees’ pension payments needed for support and received up to three months prior to bankruptcy

• Pensions, tax-exempt retirement accounts like 401(k)s, profit sharing/money purchase plans, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, defined benefit plans, IRAs and Roth IRAs to $1,283,025, state/municipal pensions and ERISA qualified benefits

• Public benefits such as unemployment compensation, veterans benefits, Social Security, workers compensation and crime victims’ compensation, unless debts for treatment of crime-related injury are part of filing

• Alimony/child support

• Insurance payments such as death benefits, annuities (excluding lottery winnings), life insurance cash surrender value, disability/illness benefits and fraternal society benefits.

To actually file, we will complete a petition and several schedules which describe your current financial status and recent financial transactions (typically within the last two years). If your creditors or the judge feel or find out that you have not been entirely forthcoming in your bankruptcy filing, it could jeopardize the outcome of your petition.

If you are filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, a proposed repayment plan must also be submitted. The plan sets out the amount of money you have available, after reasonable monthly expenses have been paid, to put toward your outstanding bill and how this money be apportioned to your creditors. Priority claims (such as taxes and back child support) must be paid in full; unsecured debts (like credit card debt and medical bills) are usually paid in part. Depending upon the judgments of those involved with your case, unsecured debts can be paid off for as little as 10 cents on the dollar.

Once we have filed your bankruptcy petition with the bankruptcy court, an automatic stay goes into effect which prevents your creditors from making direct contact with you or staking a claim on any of your property from the day of filing forward. The stay will also stop the proceedings in any pending foreclosure action filed against you.

If you are contemplating a Bankruptcy and need legal counsel who will protect your interests, please contact us .