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VanNess & VanNess, P.A.
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Managing online accounts after death

Many people living in Florida are diligent about estate planning. They've written wills, completed end-of-life planning and updated the beneficiaries on their insurance policies and investment accounts. However, there may be a group of assets that they've neglected to provide for.

Floridians who are active online should consider what they want to happen to their online accounts after they die. Photographs, documents, social media content and email will remain on the internet unless someone takes action to remove or archive it. Since this is a relatively new area of law, it is not always clear what rights an executor or heir may have over this content.

Special needs trusts for family members with disabilities

Floridians who have family members with disabilities may want to consider setting up special needs trusts for their benefit. These are specialized types of trusts that help to provide care for disabled people after their loved ones have died.

Parents who have children with special needs can set up special needs trusts for them. The trusts do not interfere with their ability to receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration or from Medicaid. The money that is held in these trusts can be used to directly pay for the person's housing costs, utility costs, food costs, dental costs, transportation expenses and other costs that are not paid for by SSDI or Medicaid. The money cannot be paid directly to the beneficiary, however, or it may interfere with their disability and medical benefits.

How to choose a trustee

Most Florida parents and others in the United States want to leave their children and grandchildren enough to live on. However, different people may have different beliefs when it comes to how much is enough for someone to live on. One way to help future generations manage their inheritance is to create a trust. Doing so may allow an individual to place specific parameters on how assets are used and when.

One of the most important components to a trust is the trustee. A trustee may be either an individual, such as a family friend, or a corporate entity, such as a bank. Whoever the trustee is, this person or entity must be willing to make decisions based on the terms of the trust even if beneficiaries may not like the decision. It may also be a good idea to find someone who can work with a variety of personality types in making sure that the trust's terms are adhered to.

Remembering beneficiary designations in estate planning

People in Florida who are creating an estate plan might not think about beneficiary designations as part of that plan. Beneficiary designations are used with assets such as retirement accounts and life insurance policies to name an heir for those assets.

One woman named her father as the beneficiary of her retirement account after she divorced her husband while her children were still very young. Her reasoning was that her father could use the money to take care of her children after she died. However, years later after her children were grown and her father had remarried, she discovered that she had never changed the beneficiary from her father to someone else. This could have caused problems for her family if she had died without making a change.

How legacy planning can shape an estate plan

Some people in Florida might have encountered the term "legacy planning." Although it may sound daunting, it is just another way of thinking about estate planning. Looking at estate planning as leaving a legacy can help a person conceptualize the process as leaving behind something that continues the person's work in the world.

It might sound like this is only a consideration for rich or famous people, but this is not the case. Anyone can leave a legacy behind. An estate plan is a way of creating a legal structure that accomplishes that. This is possible regardless of a person's income level.

Avoiding probate with modest estates

People who have small estates in Florida might want to help their intended beneficiaries to avoid the probate process. It is possible for small estate owners to plan their estates in such a way that their assets may be transferred after their deaths outside of the probate court.

People may list their intended heirs as beneficiaries on their investment accounts, bank accounts, retirement accounts and life insurance policies. Because these accounts and policies have named beneficiaries, they do not have to go through the probate process and are passed directly to the named beneficiaries upon the deaths of the account and policyholders.

End of daylight savings may mean more wildlife collisions

Drivers in Florida and across the U.S. should be aware that the end of daylight savings time brings with it a greater chance of wildlife-related accidents. Shorter daylight hours mean more encounters with wildlife, for whom the period between dusk and dawn is the most active. This change also coincides with the autumn, the peak mating season for deer and a time when bears are out looking for food before hibernation.

Wildlife crashes may be more common than some people think. For example, the Colorado Department of Transportation receives an average of 3,300 wildlife collision reports every year, with more in November than in any other month. Property damage costs, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, amount to about $3,400 for each driver.

How divorce may change an estate plan

Florida residents who are getting a divorce might want to ensure that they make any necessary changes to their estate plans. One couple had come to an agreement about keeping their individual retirement plans and splitting the excess. However, because they did not complete the paperwork, when the man died on his honeymoon with his second wife, new orders had to be prepared.

In another case, a man who had placed money in a trust with 80 percent for his wife and 20 percent for his family did not amend the trust after his wife filed for divorce. The condition for his wife inheriting around $14.4 million of the money he had received in settlement was that they still be married. The man died two days before the divorce decree was final. By Arizona law, they were still considered officially married, and the man's family only received $3.6 million while his wife got the rest.

Self-driving vehicles pose obstacles for NHTSA

Drivers in Florida will have to wait a bit longer before they can see self-driving vehicles on the road as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated that it has run into roadblocks in developing safety guidelines for them. In a notice that the agency intends to make public by the end of November, it requests input on the type of research it should conduct before moving forward. Such research may take years to complete.

This comes just as the Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill in early October, which states how companies that will deploy up to 80,000 self-driving vehicles annually in the next three years will be exempt from having to meet certain safety requirements. A similar measure was passed by the U.S. House in September. Corporations such as General Motors Company, Ford Motor Company and Alphabet Inc. lobbied for these measures while auto safety groups on the other hand are concerned about the perceived lack of safeguards.

Estate planning for each stage of adulthood

Some people in Florida may think they do not need a will because they have few assets or no dependents. However, even if all a person has is a checking account, a relative may still have to go to probate court with proof of the relationship in order to be appointed executor. Furthermore, people might still want to put healthcare and financial protections in place in case they become incapacitated.

Young adults without dependents might need little more than paperwork that appoints their parents to make healthcare decisions on their behalf and a will that appoints them as executors. Once a person marries, an estate plan can protect possessions that a person wants to remain in the family instead of going to the spouse. Second marriages can be complex if there are children from a previous marriage. An estate plan may be particularly important to ensure that children from both relationships are made beneficiaries. If the children are minors, a parent can use the will to appoint a guardian for them.

VanNess & VanNess, P.A.