What You Should Know

Paying The Bills Of A Loved One Who Has Died

Mary’s brother died in 2006 with one homestead property in his name and an outstanding mortgage. Mary was living in the house with him at the time of his death, was aware of her brother’s monthly mortgage payments and worked very hard to keep the mortgage payments current after her brother’s death. Likewise, when she was contacted by her brother’s three credit card companies she agreed to pay the credit card bills as well. It was not until 2009 when Mary decided to probate her brother’s estate to put his homestead property in her name that she discovered that she did not need to pay off the credit cards.

When a creditor discovers that a person has passed away owing him money, the creditor may attempt to get the deceased persons relatives to pay the bill. If you are responsible for a deceased relative’s estate, consult an attorney before you pay any bill owed by your deceased loved one. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the relative of the decedent is not responsible for the bill. There are, however, a few instances in which a deceased person’s bill must be paid in order to retain the asset. For instance, if the deceased person has an outstanding mortgage on a property, that mortgage has to be paid. Otherwise, the property will go into foreclosure. If the decedent had a vehicle with an outstanding loan, the loan must be paid or the vehicle will be repossessed. When it comes to uncollateralized bills on which the deceased party owes payment, the fate of the creditor varies depending upon whether there are assets in the estate to pay the bill. If the decedent’s estate has money or assets that can be liquidated, the decedent’s bills may be paid. If the decedent has plenty of bills but no assets, the bills will not be paid. Whatever you do, do not take the responsibility of paying your deceased loved one’s bills as you are not obligated to pay the bill unless you were a co-borrower along with the decedent.

The Lesson: Consult a lawyer before deciding what to do with the bills left behind by a loved one. Most likely if you are not the co-borrower on the loan, the only person responsible for the bill is the one who has died and not you. (This discussion is applicable to Florida probate cases.)

Your Rights As A Common Law Spouse

Are you living with your companion and expecting the length of your relationship to afford you certain rights even if you have not married or secured any legal documents to establish your rights? If so, consider the following true story.

Ms. Common Law had been with Mr. Common Law so long, even the church folk thought he was her husband. Ms. Common Law, who always made more money than Mr. Common Law, spent 20 years paying Mr. Common Law’s mortgage. Now here’s the clincher. Mr. Common Law had a house in his name only and a wife whom he had married 25 years earlier but never divorced. So, when Mr. Common Law died suddenly and his house was sold, who do you think got the money? His wife who had been gone 23 years or Ms. Common Law, who had paid the mortgage for 20 years? You know the answer. The wife got the money and left Ms. Common Law standing there holding the bag – AN EMPTY BAG – I MIGHT ADD.

The Lesson: If you are living with your companion and think you are building equity in property not in your name because you are paying the mortgage, protect yourself. Even if you do not plan to marry, there are documents that can be drafted and specific measures taken to protect your interest. Florida does not recognize common law marriages. Therefore, you will be weighed in the balance and found wanting if you expect to get something by saying you are a common law wife because, in Florida, there is no such thing as a common law wife. (This discussion is based upon Florida law.)

Your Power Of Attorney Dies The Moment You Do

Gina was proud to be in power. She was in power because Mother Mavis gave her the power. It was called Power of Attorney. So, the other siblings had to bow their knees to Gina’s power which she did wield whenever she felt like it. Mother Mavis was proud of Gina because, like her, Gina “didn’t take any mess off nobody.”

Well, Mother Mavis died and Gina, like always, took the “Power of Attorney” and began to wield her power. Because Gina had always been in power and the hospital was accustomed to working with Gina, she secured her mother’s body and took it to the funeral home of her choice. And, she commenced finalizing the funeral arrangements without consulting any of the five other children because, after all, “Gina was in charge.”

Well, here was the fate of Gina’s power. When the oldest son of Mother Mavis arrived in town for the funeral, he secured a lawyer and filed an emergency petition to become personal representative of his mother’s estate. Having secured the consent of all of the siblings except Gina, the oldest son of Mother Mavis was court appointed to take charge of the affairs of his mother. It was only then that Gina found out that the Power of Attorney died when her mother died.

The Lesson: The Power of Attorney is only operative during the life of the person who gave the Power of Attorney. Once the person who gave the Power of Attorney dies, the Power of Attorney is null and void. (Caveat: This discussion is based upon Florida law).

Why You Should Not Write Your Own Will

Ms. Minnie had one last thing to do before she died. Yes, she needed to write her bad daughter out of her will – you know, the daughter that was on drugs most of her adult life, the one that was so rude and disrespectful to Ms. Minnie. Well, Ms. Minnie downloaded a “will form” from the internet, and wrote, in her own handwriting, a most descriptive will with all the gory details of her arguments with her bad daughter and why she was leaving the bad daughter nothing. Everyone knew that the graphic descriptions in the will most assuredly came from Ms. Minnie. The problem was, Ms. Minnie did not follow the laws when she executed her will. She signed and dated her will on May 5, 2009 and the notary, deeming herself accurate and efficient, signed and dated her notarization August 12, 2009. The notary did not notarize the document until three months after Ms. Minnie signed it and Ms. Minnie had no witnesses. Florida law requires that all signatures on a will be provided at the same time by having the person making the will sign the will in the presence of a notary and two witnesses. As you might suspect, Ms. Minnie’s will was invalid, Ms. Minnie’s assets were probated without a will and the bad daughter got just as much as the rest of the children.

The Lesson: It is tempting to download a form from the internet and write your own will. After all, why use an attorney when the process seems so simple. If you are contemplating writing your own will without an attorney, think again. The law requires that you follow specific guidelines in order for your will to be valid and acceptable. If you do not follow the rules, your will may be deemed invalid. (This discussion is based upon Florida law.)


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