Assets at Death

Divorce and the disposition of assets at death

With the number of people getting divorced increasing, and the number of older “baby boomers” divorcing and/or dying, the Florida Legislature altered Florida Statute §732.703(2) relating to the effects of divorce on the disposition of assets at death. The Statute states:

“A designation made by or on behalf of the decedent providing for the payment or transfer at death of an interest in an asset to or for the benefit of the decedent’s former spouse is void as of the time the decedent’s marriage was judicially dissolved or declared invalid by court order prior to the decedent’s death, if the designation was made prior to the dissolution or court order. The decedent’s interest in the asset shall pass as if the decedent’s former spouse predeceased the decedent. An individual retirement account described in §408 or §408A of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, or an employee benefit plan, may not be treated as a trust for purposes of this section.”
Fighting over money
In reality, once the marriage is dissolved, and a Final Judgment of Dissolution is filed with the Court, any asset transfer or payment as listed in Florida Statute §732.703 (i.e. life insurance policies, POD accounts, retirement accounts) becomes a nullity and is not valid. However, after a dissolution it is still very important to change the beneficiaries to those assets (obviously, if those are assets not distributed to the former spouse). If the beneficiary to a policy is not changed after a dissolution, the “payor” may still submit payment to the former spouse after death. This means the current beneficiaries (most often children or the current spouse) would then have to file a lawsuit against the former spouse and/or the asset manager (retirement company/insurer/etc.) to recover those assets transferred to the former spouse. A failure to timely change beneficiaries to those assets after a dissolution could cause delay, expense, and frustration for grieving families.

Disputed Attorney's Fees

Disputed attorney’s fees

In cases where attorney’s fees are a disputed issue, each party’s attorney provides an Attorney’s Fee Affidavit, which represents his or her work on a particular case. I always find it interesting to compare other attorney’s affidavits with my own bills, to determine how other firms are billing their clients. In reviewing some of those bills, I located a case, Browne v. Costales, 579 So.2d 161 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991) where the Third District Court of Appeal wasn’t exactly happy with the billing practices of the lawyer:

“Appellee’s second attorney, the recipient of a $20,000 attorney fee award, did not keep time records because he relied on ‘unit billing.’ Appellee’s counsel admitted at oral argument that his apparently silver-tongued efforts as trial counsel secured no equitable distribution, no lump sum alimony, and no permanent or rehabilitative alimony for the wife in this one and one-half year marriage; the sole result which he obtained was $10,000 in temporary support monies.”
Silver Tongued
The Court explained that unit billing is a practice where the attorney bills a predetermined number of minutes for a given task. The Court found that the attorney’s practice of unit billing was unacceptable, and “serves to fuel the opprobrium felt for the legal profession.”

The Court went on to note that the attorney had “the effrontery to explain that his unit billing included the time necessary for him to fold the paper, stuff the envelopes, and seal them (no doubt with his silver tongue).”

The Court also cited to The Florida Bar v. Richardson, 574 So.2d 60 (Fla.1990) where the Florida Supreme Court suspended an attorney, finding “absolutely no justification” for unit billing, stating: Lawyers are officers of the court. The court is an instrument of society for the administration of justice. Justice should be administered economically, efficiently, and expeditiously. The attorney’s fee, is therefore a very important factor in the administration of justice, and if it is not determined with proper relation to that fact it results in a species of social malpractice that undermines the confidence of the public in the bench and bar. It does more than that; it brings the court into disrepute and destroys its power to perform adequately the function of its creation. The Florida Bar v. Richardson, 574 So.2d at 62 (quoting Baruch v. Giblin, 122 Fla. 59, 164 So. 831 (1935)).