Jacksonville Family Law And Estate Planning Blog

Mediation for divorce

Under state law, Florida couples who are going through a divorce must first submit their case to mediation before proceeding with litigation. This method of alternative dispute resolution is no longer an option, but it continues to provide the same advantages as before.

In the process of mediation, an impartial third party will attempt to help the estranged couple reach an accord on whatever divorce-related issues are relevant to their particular situation. These can include the division of assets and debts, child custody and visitation, alimony, and child support. The process can also be used after the divorce has become finalized, if one or both parties want to modify an existing order but they are unable to reach an agreement on their own.

How debts are settled after a spouse dies

When married people die, their debts that they incurred while alive do not necessarily go away. However, surviving spouses in Florida aren't always liable for the debts that their husbands or wives accumulated. If a debt was in the decedent's name only, it will be paid for by that person's estate. This means that assets that belonged to the decedent will be used to cover those balances.

In most cases, assets owned by a married person will go to the surviving spouse upon his or her death. Therefore, the survivor could be paying off the debts in a roundabout way as any inheritance will be reduced by claims made by creditors. In the event that a person guaranteed a debt incurred by a deceased husband or wife, the survivor is obligated to repay the remaining balance.

Reasons to update a will following a divorce

Divorce is far more prevalent in Florida when compared to other states. In fact, Florida has a divorce rate of 4.0, according to data from 2017. 

There is a lot you need to handle during a divorce, but there is one aspect many people overlook: the will. Hopefully, you had a will while married, and if you did, then it probably does not reflect your current desires. For example, you probably do not want to leave your property to your former spouse. Your best course of action will be to completely void the previous will and create a new one from scratch. An experienced attorney can assist you with this, so you do not have to go through the process alone. 

More time for fathers leads to change in custody arrangements

With studies showing that children benefit from time with both parents after divorce, custody arrangements are changing. Parents in California might try a number of different configurations that focus on the best interests of the child and provide ample time for each parent with their children.

One Texas couple bought a home with two master suites, and they take turns living there while their children stay there full time. Another couple tried this arrangement, but they found that disagreements over the condition of the house when they alternated in and out along with other problems made it unworkable for them. They changed to an arrangement in which the child spent certain weekdays and alternate weekends with one or the other parent.

Reviewing estate plans

Florida residents who have not reviewed their estate plans for some time may be wise to do so as soon as possible. Because of significant life events that can occur throughout the years, there is a good chance that several aspects of their plan require updating.

People who have relocated to a different state or have properties in multiple states should make sure that their documents are still relevant as estate planning is governed by state law. It is important to have an attorney who practices in the state of the client's primary residence to modify the documents so that they are in compliance that state's laws.

Trusts for adults can be important in estate planning

Florida residents may be driven to think about their future and that of their family, especially after important life events like marriage or the birth of children. These types of milestones can cause many people to consider the plans and actions that they can take today to help ensure that their families will be taken care of even after they pass away. An estate plan that involves wills, trusts, life insurance and other forms of asset transfer can help create a comprehensive approach for long-term benefit to one's heirs.

One estate planning strategy can involve a number of different types of documents and transfers. For example, life insurance could be a major part of an estate plan; for actual asset transfers, people may handle gifts to minors differently from gifts to adults. Trusts, in which the principal gift is controlled by another for the benefit of the heir, are frequently created as a matter of course when the gift is to a minor child or even a young adult. The child will benefit from the trust before receiving control of the entire amount when they reach a specified age.

Safeguarding finances in case of divorce

Divorce is probably far from the minds of Florida couples who are currently planning to wed. However, creating a prenuptial agreement can be a smart way for future spouses to keep finances separate and establish how property will be divided in case a divorce does happen. While some people might worry that this seems like a cynical way to approach marriage, it could ultimately save a lot of headaches in the future.

Another wise move before marriage is to have complex assets appraised. This might include a business or other money-making asset. If a couple has neglected to get a prenup before tying the knot, they could still file a postnuptial agreement.

How a lien can impact an heir

Florida residents who owe child support could have a lien placed on their inheritance. As part of settling an estate, executors are required to conduct searches for child support judgments prior to distributing assets. Typically, the value of the inheritance is first applied to the outstanding balance owed. If the inheritance is worth more than the outstanding balance, the beneficiary keeps the difference.

In the event that a person receives real property, it may need to be liquidated. This may be the case even if more than one person is named the beneficiary of that asset. However, it is possible for an individual to pay back support owed by other means. For instance, he or she may choose to pay off the amount using other funds. The other beneficiaries may also choose to pay off the amount owed in exchange for owning a greater share of the property.

Who gets my property if I die without a will?

If you are like many Florida residents, you probably have had the following experience: Your friend’s widowed mother or father dies without having made a will. All of a sudden, your friend and his or her siblings are practically at each other’s throats fighting about who gets Mom’s diamond ring or Dad’s extensive set of tools. Such family squabblings can, and often do, tear a family apart. And it all could have been prevented so simply if Mom and Dad had just taken the time to make their respective Last Will and Testament and/or put certain assets into one or more trusts for the benefit of their children.

If you are a young person in your 20s or 30s, you may think that you do not need a will because the property you have “isn’t worth anything.” But what about your house? What about your own diamond ring or other valuable pieces of jewelry? What about that 401(k) account that is accumulating money by the day? All of these things are valuable now and will become even more so as your life goes on.

Shared parenting and the myths that won't die

When Florida parents split and the custody of their children has to be decided, the goal is always to do what is in the children's best interest. But some experts believe that traditional notions about what is best for children after a divorce are in contrast to what research has shown kids actually need. Borrowing terminology from literature and pop culture, a psychologist explains how myths about parenting after divorce continue to thrive despite real evidence to dispute them.

Woozles and zombies are two words that one psychologist uses to describe commonly held but false beliefs about shared parenting by divorced couples. Woozle is a term that comes from A.A. Milne's 'Winnie the Pooh" stories. A woozle is a scary monster that Pooh and his friends believe in, though there is no evidence that it exists. Each character believes in it because all the others believe in it too. Economist Paul Krugman has used the term zombie in a similar way. In 2014 he described a 'zombie idea" as a false idea that refuses to die because everyone believes it's true, despite there being no evidence to support it.

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Rachel Rall, Attorney at Law, P.A.
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Jacksonville, FL 32210

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