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Miami is the second largest city in Florida and the county seat of the most populous county in the state. Nearly all of those residents will be impacted by estate planning and probate issues at some point. Yet, data suggests that many are unprotected when it comes to important issues like passing property to loved ones after their deaths, ensuring that their medical wishes are carried out, and otherwise putting important decisions in the hands of trusted people.
A recent Caring.com survey highlights a trend that may be hitting Miami hard. While older people have traditionally been more inclined to have wills and other estate planning documents, the 2020 data shows a reversal. 26.8% of those aged 18-34 reported having estate planning documents, compared with just 22.5% of those aged 35-54. That’s a big shift: in the prior two years, the older group was significantly more likely to have wills and other estate planning documents than the younger group.
The median age in Miami-Dade County—about 40—is a bit higher than the national average, and lands squarely in the group that’s trending downward in terms of estate planning. The average age in the city of Miami is very close to the median for the county, but in some areas it’s considerably higher. For instance, both Bal Harbour and Aventura have median ages greater than 50.
The trend for older Americans is troubling, too. Just two years ago, 60% of survey respondents aged 55 and older said they had estate planning documents. But, in 2021, that percentage had dropped to 44%. Though middle-age and older Americans seem to be increasingly neglecting estate planning, it’s just as important as ever.
When a Florida resident dies without a will, living trust, or other provision for passing property, distribution of his or her assets is subject to Florida’s law of intestate succession. That’s a state statute that dictates who gets the deceased’s property. In some cases, intestate succession gets it right, and property passes to the person or people you would have chosen. But, not always. And, intestate succession may not play out the way you’d expect.
But, that’s not the only downside to neglecting estate planning. Working with an experienced Miami probate and estate planning attorney can help ensure that:
Estate planning can also significantly reduce stress on your family and conflict among your loved ones. And, unresolved matters may cost your estate money, meaning less is left for the people you want to provide for.
The Miami-Dade Probate Court is located in the Miami-Dade County Courthouse at 73 W. Flagler Street in Miami. In the 2019-20 fiscal year, the court processed 6,590 probate cases. Most of these cases don’t involve probate litigation. But, occasionally, probate litigation is necessary.
A will contest is one of the most common and best-known types of probate litigation. A will contest is filed when a beneficiary or other interested party believes that the will isn’t valid for some reason. Some possible claims include:
Anyone considering a Miami will contest or other Miami-Dade County probate litigation should speak with a Miami probate lawyer as soon as possible. Strict deadlines apply. And, it’s important to get advice from a knowledgeable professional like a probate attorney before taking any action. Will contests and other estate litigation can be complex and expensive, and you’ll want to make an educated decision about the pros and cons of initiating litigation.
Beneficiaries are often dissatisfied with the performance of the personal representative of a Miami estate. Sometimes, that frustration stems from a lack of knowledge of the process. The length of time it takes to administer an estate, make distributions, and close the estate varies depending on a variety of factors. But, even a simple estate will typically take five to six months to administer, and more complex estates can take much longer.
In other cases, the personal representative could be doing a better job. But, that’s typically not sufficient to support probate litigation. The personal representative has certain statutory duties he or she must fulfill, but is not expected to be an expert in taxation, sale of property, or other specific aspects of the process. That’s one reason Florida law requires most personal representatives to be represented by an attorney. Though the law doesn’t specify, the attorney will typically be guiding an inexperienced person through a very technical process that includes:
So, it’s best to work with an elder law attorney who has experience with probate and estates. Ensuring that you have the right representation can help avoid probate litigation based on performance of the personal representative.
In some cases, though, the personal representative’s actions may merit litigation. For example, if the personal representative is self-dealing, putting his or her interests above those of the beneficiaries, or simply failing or refusing to do the job, action may be warranted.
A surviving spouse in Florida is entitled to a certain minimum share of the estate. Asserting this right isn’t strictly probate litigation: the right is statutory. However, calculating the spousal elective share can be complicated, and litigation may arise regarding which property should be included in the calculation, how that property is valued, and other specifics.
A surviving spouse who is considering electing against the will should consult a Miami probate lawyer before taking any action. While the 30% set forth in the statute may sound straightforward, the elective share considers property that may not be passing through the estate. That means, for instance, that a spouse who is receiving 25% under the will and also certain property outside the will may be receiving more than he or she would by electing the 30% share.
An experienced estate lawyer can explain which property will be considered in each scenario and help determine the best approach for a surviving spouse.
Whether you’re just getting started on estate planning, are considering changes due to changes in your family structure, have been appointed personal representative of a deceased loved one’s estate, or are a beneficiary or surviving spouse considering probate litigation or electing against the will, your first step should be to educate yourself.
A consultation with an experienced elder law and estate attorney like Thomas Upchurch is a great place to start. You can schedule yours right now by calling 386-320-6169.
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