Probate Section Report
by
Larry E. Ciesla

The first two probate section meetings of 2006 were held on January 11, 2006 and February 8, 2006, respectively. The following matters were discussed at these meetings.

Randy Childs stated that Chief Judge Smith has tentatively indicated his intent to move Judge Monaco to the family law division, to be replaced by the newly appointed circuit judge (who has not been named as of the time this article is being written). When subsequently queried, Judge Smith replied that this move is not set in stone and that he is considering other alternatives. Randy Childs further indicated that Judge Monaco’s new format for case management orders has not yet been finalized and, obviously, would not be implemented if Judge Monaco is rotated to family law.

A discussion was initiated by Larry E. Ciesla regarding preparation of a provision in a will establishing a trust for animals. The enforceability of such a provision was recognized by the Florida Legislature, effective January 1, 2003, with the passage of Section 737.116, Florida Statutes. An article outlining the issues of concern in drafting such a trust was recently published in the December 2005 edition of the Florida Bar Journal. Preparation of such a trust was also the subject of a portion of a recent Florida Bar CLE Seminar (Pets and Trusts by C. Randolph Coleman). Many thanks to Jane Hendricks, Esquire for sharing the CLE materials on this subject. Anyone interested in this subject should feel free to contact me.

Jay Donohoe provided the following new tax amounts, effective January 1, 2006: (1) The estate tax exemption available at death has increased from $1,500,000.00 to $2,000,000.00; (2) The annual gift tax exclusion has increased from $11,000.00 to $12,000.00; (3) The generation skipping transfer tax exemption has increased from $1,500,000.000 to $2,000,000.00; and (4) The amount of money that may be given to a non-citizen spouse each year has increased from $117,000.00 to $120,000.00. Jay also shared a copy of a brochure regarding obtaining an energy efficiency rating for a home. According to Section 553.996, Florida Statutes, which appears to apply to both residential and commercial buildings, whether new or used, a person signing a contract to purchase must be provided with written notice that the purchaser may have the building’s energy efficiency rating determined, AND must be provided with a copy of a brochure in this regard, a form for which has been produced by the state. Many of us were not aware of the latter requirement and had never seen this brochure. Many thanks to Jay for enlightening us on this matter. A copy of the brochure may be obtained by contacting my office.

Steve Graves gave a short seminar on everything you need to know about medicare; medi-gap insurance; and the new medicare prescription drug coverage. The following is a summary of my understanding of Steve’s teachings. Medicare Part B provides coverage for doctor’s bills and presently runs $80.00 per month. Medicare Part A covers hospital bills and is free to recipients of Part B. You need a medi-gap insurance policy to cover co-pays and deductibles. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida has some of the best medi-gap offerings. Blue Cross Blue Shield offers several different medi-gap plans. For most people, Blue Cross Blue Shield Plan D is the best option. It currently runs approximately $140.00 per month and includes $50,000.00 of coverage for medical expenses incurred in the event of illness experienced while the insured is in another country. Do not confuse Blue Cross Blue Shield Plan D with Medicare Part D.

The latter is the newly enacted coverage for prescription medications. There are many Part D plans being offered by various private companies, which generally range between $10.00 and $100.00 per month. The premiums are paid to the plan sponsors, not to the federal government. Individuals presently eligible for medicare must enroll in a plan by May 1, 2006 or face a penalty (based on the number of months elapsing between the deadline and the time the individual enrolls in a plan). Individuals becoming eligible for Medicare after May 1, 2006 will be given a different deadline.

Once enrolled in a plan, you will have a window each year to change plans. If you do not currently take any medications, a bare bones plan, such as the one offered by Humana for $10.00 per month, is probably best. For individuals taking less than $1,000.00 per year in prescriptions, Blue Cross Blue Shield Option 1, costing around $40.00 per month, is a good choice. Blue Cross Blue Shield Option 2, which is more expensive (I don’t recall the price), is good for individuals with over $1,000.00 per year in prescriptions. Part D does not cover prescriptions filled in Canada. The medicare.gov website has a software program that allegedly will help in selecting the best plan for a particular individual. Many thanks to Steve for sharing this information with the group.

The probate section continues to meet on the second Wednesday of each month in the fourth floor meeting room of the civil courthouse. All interested practitioners are invited to attend. If you wish to be added to the email list used for notices of meetings, please send me an email at LCiesla@aol.com.

 
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