Wednesday, January 25, 2012

If I don't have a Will, will the State get all my property?

By: Adam A. Czaya

Another question frequently posed by clients is what happens to their property if they don’t have a will at the time of their death. Many think that the property automatically goes to the state, while others believe the property will pass completely to their spouse. The short answer is that it depends on your family structure. 

A person who dies without a will dies intestate. This means that your property will pass according to the state’s intestate statutes (§§ 732.101-732.111). While it is not common for property to pass to the state, or escheat as it is called, this can sometimes happen.

In Florida, an individual’s estate can escheat to the state when a person dies leaving an estate without being survived by any person entitled to a part of it (F.S. § 732.107(1)). However, before your estate escheats to the State of Florida, there are a long list of individuals who may inherit the estate according to Chapter 732 of Florida’s intestate statutes, which can be found on the Florida legislature’s website, including children, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, among others.

If the estate does escheat to the State of Florida, the state will then sell the property and give the proceeds to Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, who will then deposit the proceeds of the sale in the State School Fund. Even after the funds are deposited with the CFO, heirs of the intestate estate have ten years to reopen the administration and prove they are entitled to the proceeds.

Of course, if you wish to avoid this sometimes complex distribution scheme that the State of Florida has written for you, you can always write your own Last Will and Testament, which will distribute your estate according to your own wishes.

If you wish to create your will or simply to get more information about your estate planning options, please feel free to contact our office and set up a free consultation.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Do I need a Living Will?

If you’re not sure how to answer that question, you should head over to our website to check out our latest edition of The People’s Law School. You might be familiar with the series of web-seminar videos, The People’s Law School, which The Law Office of Keith R. Taylor offers to help you understand and handle your own legal issues without an attorney. For this latest edition, we asked our Facebook friends what they wanted to know, and we were excited about all the feedback. Based on those votes, we are proud to offer this installment as the first of a multi-part series on Basic Estate Planning.

In the short video, Attorney Keith Taylor explains the Living Will. He helps you understand what it is, what it should look like, and whether or not you should have one. You can see this edition and all previous editions of The People’s Law School on our web-site by visiting’sLawSchool.htm.

There are plenty of forms out there to make your own Living Will (we have one on our website –It’s free!), but if you would feel more comfortable using a lawyer to prepare this important document, or if you are looking to update your entire estate plan, including your Last Will and Testament, and would like the help of a team of experienced attorneys, contact our office to schedule your consultation. We are happy to help.

If you would like to give us your feedback on what People’s Law School topics would be most useful for you, visit our Facebook page, and let us know, or send us an email.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Law in the News: McDonald's Hot Coffee Case

The Law in the News is an ongoing series where the lawyers of The Law Office of Keith R. Taylor offer their perspective on the legal cases and topics that are making headlines.

We are quickly approaching 20 years since a woman by the name of Stella Liebeck spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee that spawned a flood of bad press for the legal profession and the justice system. The $2.9 million verdict has made this case the poster child for a legal system gone wrong. Unfortunately those who have so successfully engrained this case in the minds of millions of Americans have a bad habit of leaving out some important details – details that might cause you to reconsider your opinion of the verdict.

While descriptions of the facts of this case often sounds something like, “a lady took the lid off her coffee, stuck it in her lap, it spilled, she got millions,” that tends to leave out some important parts that you may or may not know. What is often not shared is that McDonald’s knew that their coffee was dangerously hot (McDonald’s required franchises to serve it between 180 and 190°). They had been sued for very similar claims to this one before. They kept the coffee too hot because they thought it looked better (because of all the appetizing steam it created). We also don’t hear much about the very severe injuries that Ms. Liebeck had as a result of the spill. She sustained third degree burns to her legs and pelvis after seconds of exposure to the accidental spill (liquid at that temperature causes third degree burns in 2-7 seconds). Her injuries caused her to have skin grafts and spend eight days in the hospital undergoing emergency treatment. During her hospital stay she lost an extreme amount of weight, reducing her to only 83 pounds. After her skin grafts and discharge from emergency care she still had to undergo another two years of medical treatment for her injuries.

Another detail that is often left out is that Ms. Liebeck tried to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000.00, less than one percent of the jury verdict, to cover the costs of her medical treatments. McDonald’s offered her $800.00. When she tried to settle with the company two more times before trial, they refused. We also don’t hear about the parties actually reaching a confidential settlement after the fact (which means Ms. Liebeck did not get $2.9 million out of this, or even a quarter of that amount). Another thing to remember is that the bulk of the jury verdict in this case was punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish someone for something they did wrong with the idea that it will deter future wrongdoing. The idea behind the high punitive damages in this case was that an amount less than $2.7 million (the approximate amount of the jury verdict that was punitive in nature) would not punish McDonald’s because that amount would be covered by about one or two day’s worth of McDonalds’ profits from coffee sales alone.

From a line in a Toby Keith song to a film, “Hot Coffee,” which was featured at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, it seems we are all still fascinated with this little cup of coffee. Hopefully, with a different perspective on the case, we can make a more balanced judgment about the outcome of the case and the reasonableness of the verdict, and recognize how the actions of those in the legal profession can often be misrepresented by the media and the public.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Why is it called a Last Will and Testament?

By: Adam A. Czaya, Esq.

This is a question often posed to us by our estate planning clients and an interesting bit of legal trivia. Historically, a document called a “will” disposed of a testator’s real property, while a “testament” disposed of his personal property. They were often combined into single a document called a “Will and Testament” to dispose of both types of property more efficiently.

Today, we often refer to the single document as a “Last Will and Testament,” although that title assumes that the document is the final statement of the testator’s estate planning wishes, which isn’t always the case. To avoid this potential misstatement, some estate planning lawyers will simply title the document “John Smith’s Will,” or “The Will of John Smith,” as the term “will” has evolved to encompass the historical meanings of the legal terms “will” and “testament” in both colloquial and legal language. However, many lawyers, perhaps wishing to preserve a bit of the history associated with the document, retain the title “Last Will and Testament,” since either title is legally effective.

If you would like to create or update your last will and testament, please feel free to contact our office and schedule a free consultation to discuss your estate planning needs.