Hello everybody. It’s Rachel, and I hope you are all doing well during this extremely difficult time. None of us has ever experienced anything like the scope of what we are going through. Hopefully, by the time you read this, most of the worst will be over. Either way, let’s make up our minds that we will stay safe. Then, together, you, I, all of us, will get through this. I promise. Of course, we are aware that many folks want to make sure that they have all of their legal affairs in order, just in case. During these times, our office is open for legal conferences through tele-conferences, remote meetings, and where needed, through in office meetings. We are certified for online notarizations, also. I am sure that other lawyers will offer the same assistance. So, if you are worried about getting things in order, just check with your attorney. It’s wise to do that.
In the meantime, though, we have to be very concerned about some scams that are running wild. Of course, one of them is related to the Coronavirus. You have got or will get scam phone calls and emails and text messages where you are told there’s some vaccine or some cure or that it’s been discovered that you are someone who does have the virus because you came in contact with someone who has it and you’ve passed it on and you are going to be fined or thrown in jail, blah, blah and etc., etc. As I write this, on April 8, 2020, there is NO known vaccine that is being used. Yes, there are some that are being tested but it’s going to take a long time before any have been proven successful and are available for us. And as for you being fined or thrown in jail? It would be laughable if it were not so serious. Do not respond to such junk.
Next scam: My partner, Jerry Colen received a text message from, believe it or not, his OWN cell phone number, saying that McDonald’s was offering a $100 dollar gift certificate and all Jerry had to do was click on some link. Jerry’s smarter than that, or so I hope! ?. He deleted the text and you should also. McDonald’s is NOT offering $100 dollar gift certificates.
And now, this one and it’s really insidious. Someone shows up at your door and claims to be from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or from some other federal government agency. They produce really good looking BUT FAKE government identification cards or badges or whatever. They claim that you have done something wrong, usually it will be about the Census, and you must give them “appropriate information.” You and I already know what that information is: Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers. Slam the door in his or her face IMMEDIATELY. If they block the door, and you have your phone with you, call 911 at once and tell whoever answers that you are being threatened by someone trying to break into your home. Under NO circumstances should you allow that person into your home. We, you and I, must be wary of anyone who shows up at our door uninvited. Please remember that, for me.
Now, for something legal: I recently had a client who said she wanted a Trust. I asked her what her assets were. She had an IRA, a brokerage account with a national brokerage firm, a checking account, her homestead and a car that she was giving to her grandson. I asked her what she wanted to happen to her assets when she passed on. She wanted everything to go to her 3 children, equally. She said that her IRA, brokerage account and checking account all had pay on death beneficiaries already listed. I told her that she did not have a probate estate because of the pay on death beneficiaries. She did not believe me. It seems she’d been to a seminar where she was told that she needed a trust to avoid probate. I explained that she did not need a trust to avoid probate because by setting up her accounts as she did, there would not be any probate of any amounts in those accounts anyway. She asked about her home. I said she could, if she wanted, convey her home to her children and reserve a life estate to herself with the right to sell it on her own and without the signatures of her children. By the way, I don’t really recommend that because a person’s homestead is a completely protected asset here in Florida. My advice on that would have been different if she were a snowbird or a citizen of another country. Then I might—might–have suggested she deed it to her children and keep that life estate for herself with the right to sell it on her own (It’s called a Ladybird Deed.)
Wishing you the very best,
Gerald R. Colen, and his law partner Rachel M. Wagoner manage the Law Offices of Colen and Wagoner, P.A. The law firm’s attorneys are Jerry Colen, Rachel Wagoner, and John Beck. All are members of the Florida Bar Association. Jerry Colen and Rachel Wagoner are members of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and the Academy of Florida Elder Law Attorneys. Attorney John Beck has a degree in finance, a master’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in taxation. The law firm practices in the areas of simple and complex Estate Planning, wills, trusts, probate, real estate, title insurance, elder law, taxation, Medicaid Planning and business and professional advice. This column is only intended to present fact situations that may be of interest to the reader. It does not, nor is it intended to provide legal advice. You should not rely on what is written in this column to be legal advice for any situation. You should always consult your own attorney for legal advice. Mr. Colen, Ms. Wagoner, and Mr. Beck have law offices at 1756 N. Belcher Road. Clearwater, FL 33765. Mr. Colen, Ms. Wagoner, and Mr. Beck also meet clients at On Top of the World, in Clearwater, Florida. Visit the law firm’s website at www.colenwagoner.com. Email Jerry Colen at Jerry@colenwagoner.com; Email Rachel Wagoner at Rachel@colenwagner.com. Email John Beck at John@colenwagoner.com.