The State of Florida remains one of the most tax-friendly states within the United States. In fact, Florida is one of seven states with no state income tax. Property taxes in Florida correspond to taxes throughout the nation and the state sales tax is set at 6% (as of 2019). These tax friendly laws within the “Sunshine State” attract an increasing number of residents yearly.
Florida estate tax, also commonly referred to as “death tax,” is an interesting subject. It’s interesting because the state government doesn’t actually impose any estate or inheritance taxes. With that said, there are certain estates that are still eligible, and certain federal taxation laws may still apply on assets of a deceased individual.
This article discusses the topic of estate taxes in Florida. Specifically, when an estate is eligible, how these taxes can be minimized or avoided, and other necessary details on the subject.
Throughout this article there’s a certain amount of “legal jargon” that’s necessary to appropriately present this information. To help our readers better digest this content, here are some commonly used terms with definitions to alleviate potential confusion. If you feel that you’re already fairly well versed in these terms, feel free to skip this section.
Decedent – Someone who has passed away.
Probate – The court supervised process of distributing someone’s assets after they die.
Administration – This refers to the legal distribution of someone’s assets in Probate Court after they pass away.
Personal Representative – Someone who’s legally appointed to oversee the distribution of assets from a deceased person’s estate.
Inheritance Tax – Money paid to the government by someone who inherited property or assets.
Estate Plan – Legal documentation that writes out someone’s wishes should they pass away or become unable to manage assets.
Beneficiary – Someone named within a will or trust that is eligible to receive a certain amount of someone’s assets after they pass away or become unable to manage their assets.
Florida’s Laws on Estate Taxes
The Constitution of the State of Florida protects residents and all heirs from state taxes on the decedent’s estate. In other words, if your primary residence is in Florida your heirs will not pay Florida state taxes even if they live in another state. Of course, federal estate taxes may still apply to any inheritance. Some estates involve cash, IRA’s, CD’s, stock, life insurance policies, property, brokerage accounts, businesses, and other assets.
The “Boomer Generation” has reached retirement age and is looking for ways to protect income and investments. Many “boomers” worked in northern states with brutal winters and high state taxes. As a result, they are relocating to Florida due to the tax-friendly environment. For example, Florida does not tax the following:
- Social Security benefits
- 401(K)s and other retirement income
Also, Florida does not have an inheritance tax and there is no estate tax in Florida. Consequently, Floridians establish sound estate plans ensuring certain assets minimize or avoid the process of probate and pass directly to their heirs. You can read the article we wrote on the rules of probate in Florida for more information.
Florida does not impose an inheritance tax; but six states do levy a tax on your inheritance. Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania will collect state taxes on an inheritance from estates in those states. So, Florida residents who inherit property from those states may have to pay an inheritance tax to those states. However, Florida residents should consult an attorney when they inherit cash or property to discuss any tax implications.
Many times beneficiaries are listed on accounts; other times beneficiaries have passed away, or have not been named. The distribution of an estate may be a complicated process and requires prior planning. So, it’s vital to consult an attorney that specializes in estate planning.
How An Attorney Can Help
The tax-friendly laws in the Sunshine State help to preserve assets; but even “friendly tax laws” require interpretation by a professional. The State of Florida does not have an inheritance tax or an estate tax. Yet, some estates may have to pay a federal estate tax. There are exemptions before the 40% rate kicks in and an attorney can provide advice on setting up your estate to minimize taxes.
An attorney may present ways to minimize future tax liabilities. Some clients distribute assets in the form of gifts throughout their life. Others may establish a specific type of trust. A lawyer that specializes in this area of law understands the monetary limits on yearly gifting.
Remember, the laws are very specific to each state. Seeking counsel from a knowledgeable probate and estate attorney helps protects you, your family and your assets from Florida estate tax.
Intestate succession refers to the State process of distributing a person’s assets when they die without a will, or trust. When a person passes away without a written document detailing how to distribute their estate, the matter goes to Probate Court.
This lengthy process costs money and takes control of the deceased person’s assets. Basically, the State decides who inherits property, money and all other parts of one’s estate. So, dying without a will allows the State to dictate how your estate will be distributed after your passing.
Florida Intestate Succession
Florida Statute Sections 732.101-.109 covers this process When someone passes away without a will, or trust, all assets go to the closest relatives. The heirs follow a specific order in Florida.
- The first to inherit is the surviving spouse. There must be a valid marriage to be a surviving spouse. If there are no children, the spouse gets everything.
- Next in line are the children. If a child dies before the parent, then a grandchild may inherit a portion of the estate. Children must be legally adopted or biological children to fit in this category. Step-children are not included.
- If the decedent dies without a spouse or children; then, the decedent’s parents are next in line to inherit the estate.
- If none of the above are alive, then the deceased siblings would divide the estate.
Of course, family units may be complicated in today’s world. For example, usually the surviving spouse gets everything. However, if the decedent has children from a previous marriage, the surviving spouse may get half the estate; the other half goes to the child/children from the first marriage. Basically, each scenario may have complications.
If you would like more information on how assets are distributed in the State of Florida, we wrote an article on Florida probate rules and processes that covers this subject in greater detail.
What’s Not Affected by Intestate Succession?
When someone dies without a will, there are some parts of their estate that may not have to go through Probate Court. If you have funds in a 401K, or other retirement account and have designated beneficiaries, this avoids intestate succession.
Also, any property owned jointly with another person does not require Probate Court. It simply transfers upon your death. Many people set up bank accounts, CD’s, credit union accounts, and life insurance policies with named beneficiaries, or designated POD (payable-on-death) accounts.
So, any account that designates who inherits the funds when you pass away is protected from intestate succession.
Can Intestate Succession Be Avoided?
Proper estate planning avoids intestate succession. A solid estate plan includes a will, trust, as well as a power of attorney for financial and health needs. These vital documents protect you and your family and SAVE money.
How many people want the State deciding how their hard earned life’s savings are distributed? How many folks want to pay the State money after they die?
Properly written and executed estate plans minimize estate taxes, eliminate lengthy probate proceedings, avoid family fights, establish care for minor children, and fulfill your wishes. Remember, no one can predict the future. So, planning ahead gives peace of mind.
When someone dies without a valid will, their assets are declared “intestate.” It’s important to note, “intestate” does not mean that the state owns the property. This simply means that the courts are required to invoke a specific process to determining who receives assets of the deceased individual.
This process varies depending on the state where the decedent resides at the time of death. Florida has a complex and elaborate process in determining who receives these assets. In short, the first to inherit is the surviving spouse. There must be a valid marriage to be a surviving spouse. If there are no children, the spouse gets everything.
The State of Florida requires that an attorney is present throughout this process. Since the process involved with intestate succession is very in-depth, it’s vital to work with an attorney who’s experienced with probate cases. Doing so will help avoid confusion and disputes among potential beneficiaries and ensure assets are correctly distributed in accordance with state law.
If you’re a physician with a private medical practice or have a business that operates within the healthcare sector, you’re probably aware that there are many complex laws within this industry. These laws frequently change and are often complex. Ensuring regulatory compliance can be difficult, particularly for private businesses without internal legal departments.
This article describes several ways that a healthcare attorney assists private healthcare practices with regulatory compliance and protection against liability.
1. Healthcare contracts
The medical profession offers contracts to various employees. For example, many doctors sign contracts to work for a particular hospital or practice. An attorney may help write this contract or examine one before a physician signs an offer.
Another important legal document involves partnerships between medical professionals. These agreements may be complicated and must be legally sound. Contracts usually include compensation details, non-compete clauses, ownership percentages, benefit packages, retirement information and more.
A well written contract protects employers and employees. So, it’s extremely important to hire an attorney specializing in healthcare contracts. Doing so will help to avoid future legal complications.
2. Contract disputes
Sometimes a medical professional experiences a legal issue related to an existing contract. For example, problems may occur in a partnership when one party leaves a group and wants to dissolve an existing contract. In this situation, legal advice is mandatory to resolve any disputes regarding finances and/or patient lists.
Usually terms for dissolving partnerships are established in the original partnership agreement. However, if one party does not follow the original agreement; there are legal ramifications.
3. Compliance with HIPPA regulations
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), a federal law passed in 1996, protects patients’ health information. HIPPA dictates that medical professionals may not release information about any patient to a second party without the patient’s written permission. HIPPA violations can include heavy fines and prison terms.
So, if a hospital, pharmacy, laboratory or other medical professional is accused of violating HIPPA, an attorney can assist clients during investigations and provide a solid defense during a civil or criminal trial.
In today’s world, medical records are stored in computers. Sadly, these systems may be “hacked” by criminals. Organizations are not liable for these events IF proper precautions are in place. In other words, the organization must have installed proper security and performed background checks on employees. In other words, when entire medical computer systems are broken into it may or may not violate HIPPA depending on previous actions.
4. Compliance with Anti-Kickback Statutes
People involved in the healthcare industry may not accept money or rewards for referring patients. Of course, medical practitioners may refer patients to specialists, labs, testing facilities, etc. However, they may not be “rewarded” for these referrals. In addition to the federal statute, Florida has numerous statutes regarding kickbacks. Each statute is specific and requires an attorney’s interpretation.
Failure to comply with Florida’s strict laws may be a felony. If convicted, an individual may face imprisonment, fines, or loss of license. Since violating anti-kickback laws carry civil and criminal penalties it’s important to discuss all business arrangements with a lawyer.
Also, if a medical professional or organization is accused of violating any anti-kickback statutes call an experienced healthcare attorney that understands governmental rules, regulations, and statutes.
5. Stark Law Compliance
Stark Law forbids physicians from referring Medicare or Medicaid patients to any facility in which the doctor has a financial interest. For example, if a doctor, or one of his family members own a nursing home, the doctor may not send Medicare or Medicaid patients to that facility. Stark Law applies to physicians and does not require intent for a conviction.
So, if a doctor is unsure of any referral situation, or is accused of violating Stark Law, talk to a lawyer before making referrals.
6. Defense against the False Claims Act
State or Federal Attorneys use the False Claims Act to combat fraud against the government. This federal statute prohibits falsely billing the government for medical services. It also forbids underpaying what one owes the government. For example, if a medical practice knowingly files a false claim to Medicare or Medicaid that is a violation of the False Claims Act. Of course, medical facilities occasionally make mistakes and mix up records. Consequently, when a practice or individual is accused of violating the False Claims Act it’s paramount to retain legal counsel.
Healthcare is an ever-changing, complex industry and an overall complex area of law. A law firm that specializes in healthcare can help businesses that are involved in this sector ensure compliance with various federal and state laws and protect them against potential lawsuits.
Cancer is one of the saddest and most unfortunate topics to discuss. Many people have either personally lost someone close to them, or know of someone that has experienced this terrible illness. What many people are not aware of is how often cancer is misdiagnosed.
Cancer misdiagnosis may include cases where symptoms are mistaken for another illness, or cases where a patient is incorrectly diagnosed with cancer altogether. Unfortunately, In both of these circumstances, the individual is subjected to a large amount of pain and suffering. What’s more unfortunate is that often times the situation may have had a different outcome with a correct diagnosis.
This article discusses details on cancer misdiagnosis including how often this occurs, how it occurs, and what you should do if you suspect that you or a loved one are a victim.
Types of Cancer Misdiagnosis
There are a wide variety of possible scenarios with misdiagnosed cancer. An incorrect evaluation may indicate a patient has cancer when that individual does not have the dreaded disease. Another problem occurs if there is an incorrect diagnosis regarding the type or location of cancer. The third scenario involves completely missing a diagnosis.
Incorrect diagnosis, delayed or inaccurate diagnosis, and a complete failure to diagnose cancer all cause harm to patients and their families and may be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
We go into further details on these three occurrences below:
Incorrectly Diagnosed With Cancer – This first scenario leads to unnecessary suffering, stress, and medical bills. Imagine hearing you have cancer, going through treatment and later finding out you never had the disease. If the cancer misdiagnosis resulted in surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation treatments contact an experienced attorney immediately. Of course, it’s a relief to know you are cancer free; however, medical negligence is unacceptable.
Delayed Cancer Diagnosis – The second type of misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor or pathologist misidentifies the type or location of cancer. An incorrect diagnosis may lead to ineffective treatment and severely injure, or prematurely kill a patient. Proper cancer care depends on an accurate diagnosis and sufficient, appropriate testing. In other words, proper biopsies and imaging tests must be performed before treatment begins to verify suspected malignancies.
Missed Cancer Diagnosis – The third scenario happens when a doctor misses a cancer diagnosis through negligence. For example, if a neurologist treats a patient with horrible headaches for years and never orders a CAT scan or MRI of the brain, it may present a real problem. If this patient has a brain tumor that continues to grow, then the patient’s condition will deteriorate. Unfortunately, it may be too late to operate by the time the patient exhibits additional symptoms. If the tumor is malignant, cancer may spread and the consequences become fatal. So, failure to recognize cancer symptoms and order appropriate tests results in a probable cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit.
Statute of Limitations
The Florida statute of limitations is 2 years for misdiagnosis lawsuits. In other words, you have 2 years from the time of the misdiagnosis, or from the time you discovered the misdiagnosis to file a lawsuit. A credible lawsuit must show medical negligence. Simply put, the medical professional must have acted carelessly and not in the same manner as other medical professionals. Examples of medical negligence include:
- Failure to administer appropriate and adequate testing
- Failure to properly interpret test results
- Failure to refer patient to oncologist
- Failure to pursue additional testing when medically necessary
- Administering cancer drugs or treatments to patients without cancer
- Ignoring medical recommendations from specialists
- Ignoring lab results
Patients that suspect there was medical negligence involved in a cancer diagnosis should contact an experienced attorney for medical malpractice and cancer misdiagnosis cases immediately to explore legal options.
How Often is Cancer Misdiagnosed
Far too often! The American Journal of Medicine reports that cancer misdiagnosis rates occur in approximately 15% of new cancer diagnosis. Sadly, an undiagnosed cancer may quickly spread and cause tremendous complications and possible death. Since many cancers share symptoms of various conditions and diseases it’s important that physicians order appropriate tests to rule out cancer as soon as possible. So, not every ache or pain indicates cancer; but, a vigilant doctor orders testing when necessary.
Types of Cancer
Numerous types of cancer may be misdiagnosed because cancer symptoms mimic various diseases and conditions. For example, breast cancer may be diagnosed as fibrocystic disease. A breast lump may be dismissed as a noncancerous cyst. Only a mammogram and a biopsy will assist doctors in ruling out breast cancer if a woman (or man) has symptoms of breast cancer. Lung cancer may also be missed if chest X-rays are not ordered when a patient complains of frequent respiratory infections, pain while breathing, fatigue, weight loss, or cough. Numerous other misdiagnosed cancers include: pancreatic, cervical, blood, brain, prostate, skin, and colon/colorectal cancers. Of course, doctors are not responsible for every horrible consequence of a cancer diagnosis. Often even with an accurate diagnosis cancer spreads to other areas. The key question is did my doctor order appropriate tests based on my symptoms? So, if a physician failed to act as in a reasonable way and a patient was harmed as a result; seek legal advice.
Starting or operating a healthcare practice requires knowledge of several state and federal laws associated with the healthcare industry. One of these laws is known as Stark Law or the “physician self-referral” law. Failing to comply with this law can result in several harsh penalties and ultimately cause major financial damage to the business.
The primary focus of this article is to provide information to physicians and healthcare practitioners particularly within the State of Florida. This includes an overview of the law, penalties for violations, and how an attorney specialized in healthcare can help your practice ensure compliance.
Stark Law Overview
Stark Law is a set of federal laws that prohibit doctors from referring Medicare or Medicaid patients to any health facility that the physician (or a physician’s close family member) holds a financial interest.
For example, if a Medicare or Medicaid patient needs Occupational Therapy, and a physician owns an Occupational Therapy clinic; the physician may not refer the patient to that clinic. Often doctors buy nursing homes, assisted living centers, medical testing centers, etc. If a doctor owns any part of one of these businesses; then, it is against the law to refer Medicare/Medicaid patients to that particular center. In other words, a physician may not profit from referrals.
Stark Law only applies to services paid for by the federal government, like Medicare and Medicaid. This includes a physician’s investment interests and independent contractor relationships. One exception would be on-site lab and imaging services. In other words, if your cardiologist runs an EKG in the office, or draws blood, that is not a violation of the law. In summary, every state must follow these federal laws.
Penalties for Violations
Stark Law violations carry numerous financial penalties and possible future denials of Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement. If a physician is in violation, any money received must be paid back. In addition to reimbursement, a financial penalty up to $100,000 may be assessed for each violation. So, it’s important to ensure every medical practice is compliant
Healthcare Law in Florida
Doctors in Florida must follow federal Stark Law and ensure compliance with several other Florida healthcare laws. The Florida Patient Self-Referral Act, Florida Statute Section 456.053 applies to all physicians. This statute prohibits doctors from sending patients for care to any business owned by the physician. Violation of this civil statute carries stiff penalties. The Florida Statute contains some differences to this law
While Stark Law focuses on patients receiving Medicare, Medicaid, or any other federal insurance money, the Florida Self-Referral Act includes all patients. The Florida Statute is broader in a couple areas and more complicated. In fact, Florida’s regulatory healthcare compliance laws may be the most complex in the United States.
These federal physician referral laws and the Florida Statute allow ancillary services in a physician’s office. However, the Florida Statute dictates that a physician must be present in the office when these services are performed. So, if a cardiologist has testing equipment at the office one cardiologist must be at the office when the test is performed. Also, testing is limited to current patients and a limited number of outside referrals may be accepted under Florida law. Stark Law does not set the same limitations. So, it’s important to consult an attorney that understands Florida’s complicated healthcare laws before setting up a practice, or investing in a related business.
Vital Role of a Healthcare Law Attorney
Federal and State Healthcare Laws are complicated and violations carry stiff penalties. Physicians establishing new practices should consult with an attorney that specializes in this area of law. A healthcare law attorney assists doctors and hospitals with: writing contracts and transactions, setting up financial relationships between hospitals/physicians, mergers, designing policy programs compliant with federal and state laws, etc.
In addition, if a doctor, hospital, or medical practice is accused of violating a Florida Healthcare Statute or Stark Law, hiring an experienced attorney is crucial. A lawyer understands the complex laws and can prepare and submit legal documents. Whenever the government is involved, a case becomes even more complicated and must be handled by a professional that understands the law and how the government works. Not seeking sound legal assistance is costly and may destroy a medical practice. Thus, contacting an experienced attorney for any violation notice is a wise move.