What Is Escheatment, And How Can You Avoid It?
When friends try to encourage you to get started on your estate plan, they often say things like, “If you don’t do X, the state will take your property.” Their advice has a grain of truth, but they usually word it so vaguely and misleadingly that it comes across sounding like those email forwards that say, “Dollars aren’t real money, and gold is a limited resource, so invest in our cryptocurrency that we promise we are going to invent in the near future.” There are several ways that Uncle Sam can take money from your estate, and careful estate planning can help you avoid almost all of them. For example, keeping eligible assets out of probate can reduce the value of your estate, at least in the form in which it passes through the probate court, thereby reducing the amount in taxes you will have to pay. Likewise, if you used Medicaid benefits to pay for nursing home care, the state will try to reimburse itself from your estate during probate. Escheatment, where the state declares itself the heir of property that remains unclaimed at the end of probate, is considerably rare and very avoidable. To make sure that your property passes to the intended beneficiaries instead of to the state, contact a Tampa estate planning lawyer.
Yes, the State of Florida Can Legally Inherit Your Property
Escheatment is when property is left unclaimed at the end of the probate of a deceased person’s estate; since no heirs entitled to the property can be found, the state takes the property for itself. In Florida, property acquired through escheatment goes into the Florida State School Fund. Heirs still have ten years, counting from the date that the estate settles, in which they can claim the property. In order to do this, they must petition the court to reopen the estate.
The state does not often acquire property through escheatment, because the law requires the personal representatives of estates to do their due diligence in locating heirs before settling the estate. The same obligations apply whether the decedent wrote a will or whether the personal representative is representing the estate of someone who died intestate.
How to Protect Your Property From Escheatment
If you are writing your own will, be as specific as possible about the beneficiaries, to make it easier for the personal representative to locate them. Indicate successor beneficiaries in the event that a listed beneficiary predeceases you. For example, say, “My brother William Smith of Milwaukee, Wisconsin shall inherit my estate. If he predeceases me, my nieces Clarice Smith of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Patricia Alexander of Palo Alto, California shall inherit equal shares.” If you have listed charities as beneficiaries, Google them every year to ensure that they are still operational; update their contact information if necessary. If you are the personal representative of an estate, hire a probate lawyer to help you find the beneficiaries.
Contact David Toback With Questions About Preventing Escheatment
A Central Florida estate planning lawyer can help you protect yourself and your family from escheatment. Contact David Toback in Tampa, Florida to set up a consultation.