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Clearwater Estate Planning & Probate Attorney
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Clearwater Estate Planning & Probate Attorney

Clearwater & Oldsmar elder law attorney serving northern Pinellas County for more than 35 years

There are about 85,000 attorneys licensed to practice law in the state of Florida, but only about 100 are certified by The Florida Bar as Elder Law specialists, and only about 25 are certified by the National Elder Law Foundation. William Rambaum holds both distinctions and is one of the few attorneys in the state holding dual certifications with as many years of experience practicing Florida elder law. As you get older, your legal needs become vitally important in certain key areas. You need an attorney you can trust – one who has the skills, education and training to handle your most important legal needs. At William Rambaum, P.A., we have been helping people just like you for over 35 years, and we have been practicing in Clearwater and north Pinellas County for almost that entire time.

The field of Elder Law encompasses many different areas, but they are all tied together with the goal of planning for the future and making sure your healthcare and finances are protected. Your senior years should truly be the golden years you were brought up to believe they would be. They certainly can be, but not without careful, thoughtful planning and the assistance of a knowledgeable elder law attorney. We take a comprehensive approach to make sure your needs are met now and into the future. This includes estate planning to ensure your wishes are followed for your property after you are gone, while also ensuring your healthcare and legal affairs are managed according to your wishes during any period of incapacity that may occur. Clearwater estate planning & probate attorney William Rambaum takes steps to see that your assets are protected and sufficient to last you through any health crisis in your later years.

Estate Planning in Clearwater

Estate planning involves making arrangements for the management and disposal of your estate during your life and after death. The primary components of estate planning in Clearwater include wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives.

  1. Wills: A will is a legal document that outlines how your assets will be distributed after your death. In Clearwater, a will must be signed by the testator (the person creating the will) and witnessed by two individuals who are not beneficiaries.
  2. Trusts: Trusts are legal arrangements where a trustee holds and manages assets on behalf of beneficiaries. Trusts can be revocable or irrevocable. Revocable trusts can be altered or revoked by the grantor, while irrevocable trusts cannot be changed once established.
  3. Powers of Attorney: This document allows you to appoint someone to manage your financial and legal affairs if you become incapacitated. In Clearwater, powers of attorney must be signed in the presence of two witnesses and a notary public.
  4. Healthcare Directives: These include living wills and healthcare surrogates, which specify your medical treatment preferences and appoint someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.

Probate in Clearwater

Probate is the legal process of settling a deceased person’s estate, ensuring debts are paid, and assets are distributed according to the will or state law if there is no will. In Clearwater, probate proceedings are handled by the Pinellas County Circuit Court.

  1. Types of Probate: Florida offers two main types of probate administration: formal administration and summary administration. Formal administration is the traditional probate process, while summary administration is a simplified process available for smaller estates or if the decedent has been deceased for more than two years.
  2. Filing for Probate: To initiate probate, the executor named in the will (or a person appointed by the court if there is no will) must file a petition with the Pinellas County Circuit Court. This petition includes the original will, a death certificate, and other necessary documents.
  3. Appointment of Personal Representative: The court appoints a personal representative (executor) to manage the estate. This person is responsible for gathering assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to beneficiaries.
  4. Notice to Creditors: The personal representative must notify creditors of the decedent’s passing, allowing them to file claims against the estate. In Clearwater, this notice is typically published in a local newspaper and sent directly to known creditors.
  5. Asset Distribution: Once debts and taxes are paid, the remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries according to the will or state law. The personal representative must provide an accounting of all transactions to the court and obtain approval before distributing assets.

Avoiding Probate

Many individuals in Clearwater seek to avoid probate to save time and reduce legal costs. Methods to bypass probate include:

  1. Revocable Living Trusts: Assets placed in a revocable living trust bypass probate, as the trust remains in effect after death and the trustee can manage and distribute the assets.
  2. Joint Ownership: Property held jointly with rights of survivorship automatically passes to the surviving owner(s) without going through probate.
  3. Beneficiary Designations: Accounts such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and payable-on-death bank accounts allow you to designate beneficiaries who receive the assets directly upon your death.
  4. Transfer on Death (TOD) Deeds: For real estate, a TOD deed allows you to name a beneficiary who will receive the property upon your death, avoiding probate.

Estate planning and probate are essential processes to ensure your assets are managed and distributed according to your wishes. Clearwater residents should be aware of the specific requirements and options available under Florida law. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney such as William Rambaum, P.A., who will provide personalized guidance and help you create a comprehensive plan that meets your needs and protects your loved ones.

Clearwater Elder Law FAQs

Don’t worry if you have a lot of questions about estate planning in Florida. At William Rambaum, P.A., we are here to answer to your questions and guide you through the process of creating a comprehensive estate plan that is tailored to your specific needs. Below are some of the questions we hear most often as we help people in Oldsmar and Clearwater with wills, trusts, probate, guardianship, nursing home planning and other matters. If you have other questions, or if you have an immediate need in these areas, call our office at 727-781-5357 to schedule an appointment with a knowledgeable and experienced Florida estate planning attorney.

Can I make my own will?

Some states allow what are known as holographic wills, which are wills that are not witnessed but are written entirely in the testator’s handwriting and signed by the testator. These wills are not valid in Florida. A Florida will must be in writing and signed by the testator in the presence of at least two witnesses who also sign the will. Using form wills to “do it yourself,” although potentially valid, can also create problems. Without the advice and assistance of an experienced Florida estate planning attorney, you could make tax mistakes or wind up making a gift to someone who is ill-prepared to accept it; an estate planning attorney can advise you when a trust may be better for certain purposes. Also, a DIY will is more likely to be contested in court, increasing the time and cost of probate and possibly resulting in an outcome you didn’t intend.

Can probate be avoided if the estate is very small?

Florida does recognize a summary administration process when the value of the estate is $75,000 or less, not counting exempt property. Also, all of the estate’s debts must have been paid with no creditor objections in order to use the summary administration process. Summary administration may also be available if no estate administration has occurred for two years since the testator’s death.

In the case where all the assets of the estate are exempt from creditors or there is no real property belonging to the estate, then the estate may be settled through disposition of personal property without administration. This process is only available if the value of the non-exempt personal property is not greater than the amount of preferred funeral expenses along with reasonable and necessary medical and hospital bills which were incurred in the last 60 days of the person’s final illness.

Is it smart to hire a professional guardian?

A guardian generally holds a great deal of authority over another person, so it is important that you choose a guardian whom you can trust to perform the role competently and diligently. Professional guardians must complete a background check and undergo training before they can serve as a guardian. They are also required to register annually with the state and file initial and annual reports, including annual accountings of the finances of the ward. That said, there is likely a wide variance in the quality among professional guardians, and some may not be as qualified or conscientious as others. The Office of Public and Professional Guardians in the Department of Elder Affairs is supposed to provide oversight, but they may not have the resources needed to oversee all the hundreds of public and professional guardians in Florida.

It may be in your interest to choose a guardian whom you know personally and who will utilize the assistance of experts such as attorneys or accountants when needed. Call our office to discuss your guardianship needs and whether a public, private or professional guardian may serve you best in your particular situation.

How does one go about choosing a nursing home?

A good place to start is by looking at nursing homes in your area using Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare, a website which provides easy to understand five-star quality ratings of area nursing homes based on health inspections, staffing and other important quality measures. Currently, Nursing Home Compare shows 89 facilities within 25 miles of Oldsmar, and you can quickly see which nursing homes are rated much above average, much below average, or somewhere in the middle.

Other good resources are to ask your family, friends and neighbors who have experience with nursing homes in the Clearwater area. Talking to a doctor you trust can also be helpful, especially to make sure you are looking at facilities which can meet your particular health needs.

Once you have a short list of possible candidates, visit the facility for yourself. Look around, and talk to residents, staff and others whom you see visiting their loved ones. Make a scheduled appointment to have a guided tour, but also follow up with an unannounced visit if permitted by the facility.

Nursing care can be expensive, and you don’t want to have to sacrifice quality because of budgetary constraints. Contact William Rambaum, P.A. in Oldsmar at 727-781-5357 for thoughtful, effective nursing home planning so that you can afford the care you need and deserve.

Contact our Experienced Clearwater Estate & Probate Lawyer

Our office is located in Oldsmar, and we serve clients throughout the greater Clearwater area in northern Pinellas County. Call 727-781-5357 to schedule an appointment. Our Clearwater & Oldsmar elder law attorneys look forward to meeting you, getting to know you, and helping you protect your most valuable asset… you!

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  • The Florida Bar
  • NELF - National Elder Law foundation

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