Decluttering Is the New Estate Planning

If you have been meaning to declutter your house but have struggled to find the motivation, maybe it is because the usual arguments in favor of ridding your house of clutter do not resonate with you.  You are not planning to move or renovate your house, and going through the boxes and the spare bedroom and deciding which knick-knacks to throw away sounds like the opposite of joy.  Did you know that decluttering can be an important part of estate planning? Indeed, decluttering now while you are healthy might go as far toward preventing conflict and stress among your family members as your will or living trust.  

How to Stop Personal Property from Becoming a Contentious Issue During Probate

The decluttering industry calls it clutter, but in the world of estate planning law, it is known as personal property.  Too many people make the mistake of making vague provisions in their wills about their personal property.  For example, they might divide it equally among their children, or, worse, they might just say that it is up to their children to decide what to do with the personal property.  What ends up happening is that the deceased person’s grieving relatives are left sorting through mountains of clutter so that they can deal with selling the decedent’s house or fixing it up to rent it out.  In other words, it is another source of stress for people who are already going through an emotionally grueling process.

Talking About Decluttering Is More Fun Than Talking About Death

If you start decluttering now, you can open the door to conversations about your estate that do not require your children to focus on your mortality.  First, ask them which items of personal property have the most sentimental value for them.  Make specific provisions about these items in your will or trust, or, if you and your heirs are comfortable with it, let them take those items now.  Maybe decluttering doesn’t bring you joy, but seeing your daughter wearing your grandmother’s brooch will.

After you have assigned the most sentimentally valuable items to their recipients, consider having the rest appraised.  You might be surprised at the resale value of some of your items.  You can either sell the most valuable items or give your heirs a chance to call dibs on their favorite items of resaleable personal property.

Your Kids Don’t Want Your Clutter, but Maybe Someone Does

Family heirlooms that were prized in your grandparents’ generation may be useless, if not burdensome, to millennials.  Your daughter who supplements her salary with freelance gigs and is the primary caregiver for her children may not want to polish silver or iron dinner napkins, even on special occasions.  Somewhere, though, there is an online community of dinner napkin enthusiasts, even if they are just repurposing the napkins into fashion-forward COVID-proof masks.  Besides, finding someone who wants your clutter is a great way to meet new people.

Contact Us Today for Help

We can help you decide how personal property fits into your estate plan.  Contact our office for help today.


Understanding Ancillary Probate: What Happens When You Own Property in Different States

For many people, Florida is a second home. They may only live here part of the year while still maintaining owning a home or real property in another state. But how does this work when it comes to your will? That is, do you need to have separate wills for your Florida and non-Florida real properties?

You do not need separate wills. But you do need to be aware of the possible need for additional probate proceedings following your death. This is because when it comes to real property, the state where your real property is located has jurisdiction over the property in any probate proceedings.

So, let’s say Jessica owns a home in Florida and another home in Pennsylvania. She considers herself a Florida resident and spends most of her time in this state. When Jessica passes away, her personal representative (executor) will open a probate proceeding in Florida. But the personal representative must also open a secondary–or ancillary–probate in Pennsylvania.

The ancillary probate is necessary only to dispose of the Pennsylvania property under the terms of Jessica’s will. The Pennsylvania court has no jurisdiction over any of Jessica’s Florida property, which includes non-tangible assets such as her bank accounts. However, any of Jessica’s creditors who happen to be located in Pennsylvania may file a claim against either the Florida or Pennsylvania probate estates.

Can Ancillary Probate Be Avoided?

There are a number of options that can help keep your real property out of probate entirely. These options include:

  • Living Trust. With a trust, you transfer title to your real property to a trustee, who can be you during your lifetime. Upon your death, a successor trustee named in the trust document assumes control of the property and distributes it according to your wishes. Since the property is owned by the trust, it is not subject to probate.
  • Joint Ownership. When two people own a property jointly with “survivorship” rights, the surviving co-owner becomes the sole owner upon the joint owner’s death. So, if you and your spouse co-own real property, upon the first spouse’s death, the surviving spouse simply becomes the sole owner; the property does not pass through the first spouse’s probate estate.
  • Lady Bird Deed. You can also bypass probate by creating what is known as an “enhanced life estate” or “Lady Bird” deed. With this type of deed, you name a “life tenant” (typically yourself) who is entitled to reside on the property until they die.  When the life tenant dies, ownership passes to the beneficiary or “remainderman,” who effectively inherits without the need for probate.

Contact Us Today

If you own real property outside of the state of Florida, it is important that you take steps to address it in your estate plan.   The experienced Florida estate planning and elder law attorneys at Morgan Law Center can provide you with professional guidance and advice. Contact us today at (386) 755-1977 to schedule a consultation.


Four Ways to Stay Connected With Friends and Family in the COVID Era

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many of us to make drastic changes to our lives, including how we visit our friends and loved ones. Until there is a vaccine that is widely available, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging people across the country to limit indoor gatherings.  However, that doesn’t mean you have to go without seeing your family and friends!  In fact, there are many ways you can stay connected during these trying times. Let’s take a look at some creative, fun ways to stay connected. 

Virtual Wine Club, Book Club, and Other Group Activities

Just because it’s not ideal for large groups to congregate indoors right now doesn’t mean you can’t organize a virtual club, like a book club, wine club, or bible study. Once, twice, or four times a month, hop on a Zoom call with your friends or family members and converse over a good book or try new wines and foods and chit chat for a bit. Keep things fun and laid back. There are enough things going on right now to stress out about. Take a break from it all and just have fun for an hour…or three. Don’t have Zoom? There are many ways to meet up online, including Google Hangouts and Facetime.


Schedule Regular Video Calls

So you can’t see your friends and loved ones as often as you would like in person, but there’s no cap on how often you can video chat. If you have kids and grandkids, this is a great way to stay connected. You can also get creative and celebrate birthdays and other parties via apps like Zoom and Facetime. 


Have Goodies, Groceries, and Gifts Sent to Loved Ones and Friends

Who doesn’t like surprises? When you can’t spend birthdays and holidays with the people you love, you can still brighten their days by having packages of goodies and gifts delivered to their homes. Surprising a family member with grocery delivery is another way you can show you care and are thinking about them. Have a family member that recently had a child or became injured and is on bedrest?  Surprise them with a meal delivery from GrubHub, DoorDash, or Instacart. The options are endless.


Send Some Snail Mail

Brighten someone’s day the next time they grab their mail from their mailbox by sending a thoughtfully written letter. Whether it’s just to say hello or pages filled with information and news about how your life is going, most people enjoy receiving hand-written letters in the mail.


These are just a few ways you can stay connected with friends and loved ones during the COVID crisis. Not only are virtual meetings and visits a good away to social distance and stay safe from the virus, but it’s good for your mental health to stay connected and up-to-date on your loved ones’ lives. Making Zoom calls fun with things like a book club or virtual birthday parties are great ways to interact with people outside your household and ward off loneliness and isolation. 


Do you have a loved one living in isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you interested in learning about in-home care or elder care laws in Florida? The team at Morgan Law Center can help. Give our office in Lake City, Florida a call today at (386) 755-1977 to schedule a consultation.

Why You Need a Designation of Health Care Surrogate

Having a Designation of Health Care Surrogate (sometimes referred to as a “Medical Power of Attorney”) is important because if you ever become incapacitated or unable to make decisions for yourself, this document will authorize a member of your family, or anyone you choose, to make medical decisions on your behalf. A whole host of medical conditions and accidents can render someone incapable of communicating their medical decisions in dire times. From dementia and mental illness to car accidents, strokes, and heart attacks. If you arrive at the hospital unconscious or unable to communicate, a Designation of Health Care Surrogate will permit a trusted loved one to make health care decisions on your behalf.  

What Makes a Designation of Health Care Surrogate Important?

When you experience an accident or medical emergency that renders you unconscious or unable to communicate, having someone named as your health care surrogate to make decisions on your behalf will make it easier for health care professional to treat you.  If you don’t have this document in place, the decision may fall on a relative that you would not choose to make such decisions for you.  If you are unmarried and have multiple children, the decision can become complicated because all your children will have to be consulted. This can pose headaches if the children do not agree on a medical recommendation.

Another complication arises when you have a partner to whom you are not married, as they will not be considered your legal next of kin and will not be able to make medical decisions on your behalf. In cases where the hospital cannot locate your next of kin and you have no Designation of Health Care Surrogate in place, your medical care provider will have to petition the courts to authorize medical treatment. 

How to Make Designation of Health Care Surrogate Legally Binding

For a Designation of Health Care Surrogate to be legally binding, the document must meet the legal requirements set forth by state law. Contacting an experienced estate planning attorney is a good first step.  An experienced estate planning attorney will walk you through the process and educate you on all the steps involved. The individual you eventually designate as the one to make medical decisions on your behalf is called a Healthcare Agent. This person, whether it is your spouse, adult child, or a close friend or partner, must be mentally competent.  Just like many important decisions in your life, it is also a good idea to have a back-up Agents named in the document just in case something happens to your first choice. 

If you are in need of a Designation of Health Care Surrogate, contact the team at Morgan Law Center in Lake City, Florida. Our experienced team is passionate about providing the help you need. Call us today at (386) 755-1977.

How to Avoid Having to Obtain a Guardianship for an Ailing Parent

Do you have an elderly parent you are concerned about, especially if they’re beginning to show signs of mental impairment or difficulty handling their personal affairs? If a parent becomes mentally incapacitated, you may have to obtain a guardianship in order to manage his or her finances or medical care.  Guardianships are extremely costly and time-consuming, and necessitate that the court supervise all actions taken on behalf of the ailing parent.  At Morgan Law Center, we recommend that guardianship proceedings be avoided if at all possible.  How?  Let’s find out.

A comprehensive estate plan is the best way to ensure that your parent’s wishes are followed when or if they become incapacitated.  In addition to creating a will or trust to direct the distribution of assets at your parent’s death, a good estate plan should always include a financial power of attorney, and advance health care directives in which the parent designates a trusted person to make health care decisions in the event the parent can’t do so for him or herself.

  • Financial Power of Attorney:  This document, known in Florida as a General Durable Power of Attorney, grants a trusted person, known as the attorney-in-fact, the power and authority to pay bills, and manage property transactions, investments, and bank accounts.  Make sure your parent’s power of attorney also grants the attorney-in-fact the power to establish a Medicaid-qualification trust, as one may be essential to your parent’s ability to qualify for long-term care benefits that will pay for nursing home care.    
  • Advance Health Care Directives:  Two documents are important here:  (1) Designation of Health Care Surrogate, and (2) Living Will.   The Designation of Health Care Surrogate will enable your parent to name the person he or she wants to make health care decisions if the parent can’t do so for him or herself, and will also waive the HIPAA restrictions so that the designated person can access the parent’s medical information.  The Living Will sets forth the parent’s wishes with regard to end-of-life medical treatment.  

In addition to the above, if your parent creates a living trust as part of his or her estate plan, the trust should designate an “incapacity trustee” to manage the assets held in the trust during incapacity, as well as instructions on how the assets are to be used and managed.  

Your parent must be mentally competent to create an estate plan, so the sooner the plan is in place, the better.  Once your parent becomes incapacitated, it will be too late. 

Do you have an aging parent that you’re concerned about? If your parents haven’t created a comprehensive estate plan, now is a great time to bring the topic to their attention, before it’s too late. Fortunately, the skilled legal team at Morgan Law Center in Lake City, Florida can help. Give our office a call today. We have a proven track record of helping families navigate the estate planning process. Call us at 386-755-1977 to schedule a consultation.

When Should You Begin the Estate Planning Process?

Estate planning refers to the act of making a plan to determine who receives your property and belongings after you die.  Good estate planning, however, also includes instructions for your care if you become disabled before you die, provides safeguards for loved ones who are not financially responsible, and minimizes taxes, court costs, and unnecessary legal fees.   

Unfortunately, estate planning is one of those things that few people think about until late in life.  However, the sooner you create an estate plan, the better. After all, no one knows how much time we have. 

What’s the Difference Between Estate Planning and a Will?

Many people think if they have a will, they have an estate plan.  However, a will is just one component of a good estate plan.  It can be an important component, as it directs your belongings and assets to the people you choose after your death.   If you have minor children, your will should designate who will care for your children in the event of your untimely passing. But as we said, wills are just one part of estate planning. Other components include the following:

  • Living Trusts
  • Powers of Attorney
  • Advanced Directives 

With so many components and so much at stake if you don’t have a plan in place before your passing, it’s important to seek out a lawyer who specializes in estate planning. Having a legally binding, well-thought-out estate plan in place will ensure your wishes will be followed and that you and your loved ones won’t be taken advantage of. 

Estate Planning Protects Your Funds and Saves Time in Court

Few people enjoy thinking of their own death and what will happen to their loved ones and belongings when they are gone. Without a comprehensive estate plan in place, your belongings and assets may be seized by others unrelated to you. If you have a good estate plan, the process of distributing your belongings and assets will be simple and straightforward.  If you only have a will in place and not a full estate plan, the process of distributing your assets will be messier, time-consuming, and expensive. Additionally, probate will become part of the process.

For those who don’t know, probate refers to the judicial process during which a will is determined to be legal and enforceable. Oftentimes, the probate process is costly and lengthy, especially if the will is contested at any point during the process. Additionally, every step of the probate process is public record, meaning your family will not have much privacy.

Thorough estate planning can avoid probate altogether. Fortunately, the skilled team at Morgan Law Center can help. Not only can our team help you create a plan to ensure that your wishes are honored, both in life and in death, but we can help craft any documents you may need to ensure your medical care is handled how you wish in the event that you are incapable of making decisions for yourself. In the event of your passing, our team will be by your family’s side to make sure your wishes are carried out.

The team at Morgan Law Center in Lake City, Florida understands that estate planning is a sensitive topic for many people, and we’re here to help you in any way possible. Give our office a call today to schedule a consultation. Contact us at (386) 755-1977.