Florida is an ideal location for retirement. Retirees from all over the country migrate to Florida to enjoy the beaches, laid-back lifestyle, seemingly endless entertainment options, favorable tax laws, and most of all, the weather. Unfortunately, a surplus of elderly residents means plenty of targets for predatory relatives, friends, or caretakers seeking to take advantage of the elderly.
When elderly Floridians are preyed upon and unduly influenced or coerced into changing their estate plans, the attorneys at Adrian Philip Thomas, P.A. are ready to step in and make sure that the rights of family members and the true beneficiaries are protected. We receive inquiries every day from potential clients who want to know, “Do I have a case?”
Before our office can make that determination, we have to examine the facts. Some of the relevant material that should be gathered in order to diligently scrutinize the case includes:
- All testamentary documents are available. This means wills, trusts, and amendments thereto, codicils, power of attorney documents, health care surrogate documents, guardian documents, along with any notes or drafts. These documents offer an invaluable look into the decedent’s estate plan over time and will help us locate drafting attorneys and witnesses who can speak to the decedent’s competency at the time of execution;
- Writings of the decedent. This can include emails, text messages, letters, notes, diaries, journals, calendars, social media posts, personal checks, and even holiday cards. These writings help us develop a picture of the decedent’s daily activities, an affinity for family members or beneficiaries, ability to formulate cogent thoughts and understand communications, and ability to conduct the everyday business of life;
- Financial records. This should include the names and account numbers of all bank accounts held by the decedent, along with all brokerage accounts, IRAs, pensions, VA benefits, social security benefits, employment, and income history. Bank records in particular are indicative of the decedent’s lifestyle and with whom the decedent had financial contact. If the decedent was the beneficiary of an estate or trust, this is also important to know, as those benefits could become part of the decedent’s estate.;
- Property records. All written records of any real property owned or occupied by the decedent, including all deeds, mortgages, encumbrances, liens, attachments, leases, promissory notes touching or concerning real property can help us determine what assets are at issue. Remember, securities and investments, though intangible is also the property of the decedent and subject to estate or trust administration! Stock certificates, bond notes, certificates of deposit, shares of ownership in private companies or corporations are all assets that can be devised or bequeathed in a will or trust;
- Medical records. Medical records are essential in determining the degree of the decedent’s competency at the time his or her estate plan was changed. Although obtaining these records often requires a subpoena or court order, the names of nurses, doctors, hospitals, assisted living facilities; in-home health aids and saves time and money in the pursuit of this information. A list of the decedent’s known prescriptions, procedures, and medical conditions is also informative and useful;
- Death certificates and obituaries. Death certificates often contain a wealth of information, including the age, social security number, alias(es), marital status, name of the decedent’s last physician, and cause of death. Obituaries or memorial writings offer general information regarding the decedent’s hobbies, interests, family and friends, and living situation prior to death;
- Government records. Government records often will reveal information regarding a decedent’s health, income, residence, and even mental state. Helpful records include Medicare or Medicaid applications, applications for the homestead exemption, income tax returns, property tax receipts, voting registration information, driver’s license applications or tests, car and boat title transfers, calls for jury service, and county records such as code violations, police reports, and Elderly Services;
- Records of Activities. Records regarding the decedent’s day-to-day activities can come from a wide variety of sources such as church membership, social clubs, hobby groups, insurance applications, charitable work, and charitable organization memberships, neighborhood associations, and bank records; and
- A list of friends, family, colleagues, associates, counselors, and even casual acquaintances of the decedent. Anyone who can offer us insight into the decedent’s physical and mental health on or around the date that the decedent’s estate plan changed is worth talking to.
With the help of the information discussed above, we as attorneys can provide a better-educated, more efficient answer to the question, “Do I have a case?”
If you believe you may have a case involving trust or estate litigation, call the lawyers at Adrian Philip Thomas P.A.