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How Will an Inheritance Affect My Child’s Legal Standing?


In preparing a Florida will or trust, you need to be mindful of the potential financial impact an inheritance may have on your children or other beneficiaries. If you have a disabled adult child receiving means-tested government benefits, for example, suddenly receiving a large sum of money from your trust could render them ineligible. Similarly, if your child is facing a potentially large civil judgment, your probate estate may become entangled with these potential creditors.

Mother’s Probate May Prove Critical to Accused Parkland Shooter’s Criminal Defense

Recently Floridians were horrified by the shooting deaths of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. Police arrested and charged a 19-year-old man as the sole shooter in the case. Interestingly enough, an ongoing Florida probate matter may have a significant impact on the criminal defense of the accused.

Several months earlier, in November 2017, the accused shooter’s mother passed away. Following the Parkland shootings, a family friend who had been caring for the accused filed papers in probate court to be named administrator of the mother’s estate. A Broward County circuit court judge subsequently allowed a probate lawyer representing the putative administrator to meet with the accused shooter in jail.

Why is this meeting important? According to news reports, the exact size of the mother’s estate has not yet been established. Once it is–and once it is known how much the accused shooter stands to inherit–he may no longer be eligible for the services of a public defender in a criminal case. As anyone who has ever watched a legal drama knows, if a criminal defendant cannot afford an attorney, he is entitled to have one appointed by the court. And Florida law imposes strict income limits when determining who “cannot afford” their own lawyer.

Should You Consider a Spendthrift Trust or Special Needs Trust? We Can Help

Of course when making your own estate plan, you are probably not thinking of your child standing trial for mass murder as a possible contingency. But what about a scenario where your child is facing a large civil judgment, say from a car accident where she was held liable for someone else’s death. Could the victims recover against the inheritance left from your estate? Or say you have a family member receiving Florida Medicaid benefits. A substantial inheritance might leave them with “too much property” under Medicaid eligibility rules.

Florida estate planning offers a number of tools to guard against these more routine contingencies. To protect an inheritance from a beneficiary’s creditors, you can include a spendthrift provision in your revocable living trust. This basically means that any money you leave will remain in the hands of a trustee who retains full authority over when and how to use those funds for the benefit of the beneficiary. Since the beneficiary never legally owns the trust principal, her creditors cannot touch it.

In the case of a relative who needs to remain eligible for Medicaid and similar government services, you may need to create a special needs trust. This operates along much the same lines as a spendthrift trust. You give money to a trustee who may use the funds to purchase goods and services for the beneficiary, but the trust itself is not considered the beneficiary’s property.

If you think that a spendthrift trust, special needs trust, or similar asset protection strategy may be beneficial to your family, you should speak with a qualified Fort Myers estate planning attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 to schedule a free consultation today.


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