Frequently Asked Questions
Richert Quarles Client FAQ
How much are your fees?
For most of our services we offer a flat fee. For example, regular probate fees are set by statute, we offer flat fees on most small claims and evictions, we offer flat fees for estate planning, and some drafting projects. For review of documents and litigation we use hourly billing. We’re committed to the philosophy that you can’t practice law in 6 minutes- so we won’t bill for a phone call for just a few minutes, or forwarding an email. You won’t see any entries on your bills with a .1 of an hour. In addition to competitive rates, we do our best to provide an accurate estimate for your total costs. We’ll also let you know when there will be a big expense, or it looks like you’re about to go over budget- we don’t do ambush billing at the end of the month. Contact us today to find out what your matter might cost to handle.
Do you take cases on a flat rate basis or contingency?
Not all cases are appropriate for a contingency fee. Many small claims, prosecuting evictions, and estate planning matters can be handled with a flat fee. We take most other litigation cases on an hourly basis- often with a fee deposit. We do not typically take personal injury cases on the plaintiff’s side. This lets us know you believe in your case as much as we do and allows for us to get started.
How do I make an appointment?
You can call 727-235-6461 to talk to an attorney now. If you’d rather email us you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. We should respond to your email within 24 hours.
Do you defend or bring small claims cases?
We defend and pursue claims in small claims court. Small claims are claims that are for damages of less than $5,000. For most small claims cases, we offer plaintiffs a flat fee, but to defend a small claims case, we offer our competitive hourly rate.
What are your practice areas?
We focus on probate and estate planning, but we love helping our clients with all the issues they may encounter, including contracts, business law, business entity formation, civil litigation, and professional license defense.
How often do you invoice your clients?
For ongoing representation we invoice monthly, otherwise we will invoice you before, or shortly after beginning work.
What are your expectations from your clients in the attorney-client relationship?
My loved one died, but they had a will, why do I need to do probate?
Even if your loved one had a will, the court must verify the validity of the will, and probate provides a forum for people to be heard if they believe the validity of a will is questionable. Once the will is admitted to probate, the court makes sure that creditors are paid in the appropriate order under the statute, and that everyone who may have an interest in the estate has proper notice. Probate is also required to transfer property that is titled in the name of the person who passed away, such as a house, car, boat, or investments.
My loved one didn’t have very much, do I need to do probate?
In some cases you can do what’s called disposition of personal property without administration. This is uncommon, but the forms are available from the various county courts in most cases, like this one from Pinellas County.
All my loved one owned was their home, won’t probate let creditors force me to sell it?
Article X, Section 4, of the Florida Constitution provides a homestead protection in probate cases where the decedent leaves his or her home to his or her heirs. An attorney will be able to tell you whether the home qualifies for the homestead protection
How much is probate going to cost?
We follow the presumptively valid fee schedule set by statute– so you know you won’t over pay. If there are matters that don’t fall under the services contemplated by the statute- we’ll let you know so you won’t have any surprises.
Can I avoid probate? I thought everyone has to go through it?
This is the million dollar question. There are quite a few strategies that can be used to avoid probate. The various strategies available depend heavily on the nature and amount of your assets. Sometimes we can use a trust, a special type of deed, or beneficiary designations to help you avoid probate. Our attorneys are able to advise you on ways that you can avoid probate.
How do I change the ownership of my deceased loved one’s house to the beneficiaries named in the will?
This type of transfer will usually require getting the will admitted to probate, then asking the court to rule on whether or not the home is considered homestead for probate purposes.
My loved one had bank accounts in his or her own name. How does that money get distributed according to my loved one’s will?
The will needs to be admitted to probate, which will give creditors an opportunity to file statements of claim in the probate case. Once all claims of creditors are paid, the court will oversee distribution of the assets.
How long does probate take?
Probate can be as short as a few weeks when there are no creditors and summary administration is appropriate to several months in larger estates.
How do I know if there are creditors for my loved one’s estate?
We recommend collecting the mail for a couple of months, searching various county records, and a few other steps to check. Also, it’s usually beneficial to publish for a summary estate, and necessary to publish notice in a formal administration. This is one of the reasons it’s important to hire an attorney to handle your loved one’s probate.
I think that there may be something funny going on in my loved one’s probate case. How can I make sure that the personal representative is acting according to the rules?
Of the many statutory duties and powers of the personal representative, providing an accounting to interested parties is a pretty important one to say the least. It’s also one that is generally waived, because accountings in probate cases are expensive and time consuming. When everyone is on the same page waiving an accounting may make sense, but it’s not always appropriate to waive the accounting.
My spouse died a while ago, but now my mortgage company won’t let me pay the mortgage, what do I do?
Consult with an attorney. A mortgage processor may require the appointment of a personal representative in order to add the surviving spouse to the note and mortgage so that they could remain in the home. If your spouse died more than 2 years ago, then all creditor claims are barred by statute.
Estate Planning FAQ
I don’t have any kids, I don’t need an estate plan do I?
An estate plan can benefit people without kids by easing the process by which your assets are distributed to your surviving spouse, parents, brothers and sisters, and anyone else to whom you’d like to leave belongings. It may also be possible to protect your estate from the expensive and time consuming process of probate.
I have kids, but doesn't everything go to them anyway?
When property passes after a person dies without a will it’s called intestacy. Florida has a statute that provides a default distribution of assets to heirs when there is no will. A will allows for you to specify the person to be the personal representative of your estate and also specify the exact distribution of your assets after your death.
Can I avoid probate? I thought everyone has to go through it?
This is the million dollar question. There are quite a few strategies that can be used to avoid probate. The various strategies available depend heavily on the nature and amount of your assets. Sometimes we can use a trust, a special type of deed, or beneficiary designations to help you avoid probate.
What’s the difference between a living will and a last will and testament?
A living will is very different from a last will and testament. A living will is you putting the rest of the world on notice that you wish to avoid artificially prolonging the process of dying. A Last Will and Testament, usually simply referred to as a will, is what directs the final disposition of your assets, voices your choice of caretaker for minor children, directs burial preference, and payment of your final debts. A binding designation of who will take care of minor children requires a special form, and filing that form with the clerk in your county- so don’t rely on a will if you have concern about some unfit person caring for your children should you die.
What can I do with a Power of Attorney?
A power of attorney lets someone step into your shoes and do almost anything you can do with very few exceptions. Choosing an agent to act on your behalf should be done with the advice of an attorney. It is also best to use a power of attorney drafted by an attorney. We’ve seen quite a few that miss the mark, and end up costing thousands.
What about my electronic assets?
The federal and state laws relating to electronic assets like Instagram accounts, online brokerage accounts, and many others is unsettled. Florida recently amended the statutes allowing you to designate someone to access your assets, but how this will interface with user agreements and federal law is still somewhat unclear. We include provisions in our documents when requested to address the new Florida statute and federal law.
Who will take care of my kids if something happens to me?
Usually the surviving biological parent, and then other family members can take care of your children if something happens to you. If you think an unfit family member may attempt to take care of your children to access your assets or for some other nefarious reason then you should use a Pre-Need Designation of Guardian for minors. There is specific language and a particular process that must be followed for these to be valid in Florida.
My spouse and I are on our second marriage, and we don’t want to leave anything to each other, we want to leave everything to our kids. Can I do that?
It can be done, but will require waivers, and other documents to make sure that a surviving spouse who changes their mind can’t try to claim an elective share. Our attorneys can make sure that your assets end up where you want them
What are the benefits of having an attorney draft your estate plan rather than downloading the estate documents from a legal form service like Legalzoom?
Sometimes we get a client who has a power of attorney, which is great, until we get to review it. Upon review it turns out that this power of attorney form was purchased for $49.99 on a website, but is essentially worthless. Fixing the problems that arise after an insufficient document has been executed can cost thousands. If our client had relied upon that document until the principal had lost capacity, the only solution would’ve been guardianship. The example of this POA is illustrative of how the documents you download from the internet may not do what you think they will. More times times than not when we encounter these documents after people have purchased them, we have to begin damage control and cleanup. The additional cost of an attorney’s advice in addition to the cost of the document is well worth it. Contact us for an estate plan quote today.
Can I use a trust to transfer assets to my family after I die?
Yes, it is possible to set up a trust that will allow for you to transfer assets to family members, or anyone after you die.
How can I save money on taxes?
Estate taxes usually only apply to very large estates. If you think you may have an estate tax due, you should consult with us, or your tax professional. If your estate is in estate tax territory, we can work with you to organize your estate to mitigate taxes using charitable legacy gifting, or in some instances acquiring insurance held in such a way that it will not increase your taxable estate, and provide funds to pay the taxes.
How can I protect my assets from creditors?
The Florida Fraudulent Transfer Act governs making changes to titling of assets to frustrate creditors. That’s why it’s important for you to come to us sooner rather than later. An asset protection trust or closely held company can be used in Florida to help shield assets from creditors. One of the weaker points of asset protection in Florida is that a self-settled trust in Florida is not effective against claims of creditors to the extent that the settlor contributed the assets of the trust.
If I have a trust do I still have to go through probate?
If all of you titled assets, such as properties, cars, investment accounts, bank accounts, etc., are titled in the name of the trust or have designated beneficiaries, you likely will be able to avoid probate altogether. However, probate can be required for specialty cases and an attorney will be able to explain the process and potential situations to you in more detail.
None of my kids are minors, do I still need a trust?
A trust can assist you beyond just providing for you children in the event of your death. In Florida, a trust is a good way to keep your assets out of the probate process. This means that there is no requirement for the assets to be administered by the probate court, saving your loved ones the expense of attorney’s fees and time. However, a trust is only appropriate if you possess assets of a certain value and nature. If you are interested in finding out more about whether a trust is appropriate for your situation, please contact us to schedule a free phone consultation.
Can a trust make things easier on my loved ones when I pass away?
Yes. Probate is a time consuming process and can also be expensive. If you have your assets in a trust, those assets will be kept out of the probate process, which will decrease the time and expense that your loved ones spend in the probate process. A trust may even eliminate the need for probate altogether.
What are the advantages of having a trust vs. just having a will?
When you have a will, your estate will need to go through probate in order for your assets to be transferred according to your wishes. If you have a trust, the assets are either held in the trust or transferred according to the instructions contained in the trust documents. There is no need to probate the assets held in a trust.
Does a trust document need to be customized to for my needs or will a form trust work just as well?
It is always best for you to consult with an attorney in order to ensure that your trust documents reflect your wishes. Form documents may be good for some people or they may not. An attorney can draft you custom trust documents that are made to your needs and are drafted to carry out your wishes. The only way that you can be sure that your trust documents will carry out your wishes is to consult with an attorney.
Civil Litigation FAQ
Do you sue people?
Yes we do file lawsuits against people who have damaged our clients. However, in order to see if a lawsuit is the right way to proceed, we will need to have a consultation with you in order to assess your case to determine your legal position. Most times, we recommend our clients send a letter to the other party demanding compensation or payment before filing a lawsuit. If the other party responds and we are able to work out a settlement, this can save our clients considerable time and expense over proceeding with filing a lawsuit.
Do you defend against civil lawsuits?
We defend against civil lawsuits. If you have already been served with a complaint or have received a communication from the opposing party, we can help you by representing you in the action.
I’ve been served with a complaint against me in Florida, do I need an attorney?
Yes you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible. Please call us at 727-235-6461 for a free phone consultation about your legal problem.
Do I need to hire a lawyer if I’ve been sued?
You are not required by law to hire a lawyer to defend you in a lawsuit, however, is it very highly recommended. The court system and the law is complex, so having an attorney who works in the system everyday and has made it his or her life’s work to become as knowledgeable about the law is an enormous benefit. You are at an extreme disadvantage if you do not have an attorney representing you in a lawsuit. You are likely to miss a vital defense or cause of action for your case and you will likely be in a much worse position in the litigation than if you had an attorney representing you.
How long do I have to answer a complaint in Florida?
You have 20 days to answer a complaint in Florida. This includes weekends and holidays, unless the last day is on a weekend or holiday. If the last day is on a weekend or holiday, then the last day to file the answer is extended to the next business day. If you have been served with a complaint, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible.
I have received notice that a default has been entered against me in a civil case in Florida. Can I still defend the lawsuit?
It depends on the facts of your case. This is a complicated question, so please contact an attorney as soon as possible to see what your position is and whether the default can be set aside. Please call us at 727-235-6461 for a free phone consultation about your legal problem.
How long does it take to litigate a case against someone from start to finish?
It all depends on the case and the parties. If the case is contentious with both parties moving to trial, the case will likely last more than one year, maybe even two years or more. A small claims case usually is completed within 3-4 months. A probate administration can be 6 months to over one year.
How much does it cost to file a case against someone in Florida?
This is dependent on the amount in controversy in the case. If the amount is over $15,000.00, then the filing fee is $400 as of 2017. If the amount is less than $15,000 but over $5,000, then the filing fee is $300. Small claims cases are also dependent on the amount. Please refer to your local clerk of court for specific filing fees.
Which court am I able to file my case in Florida?
This is an issue of venue and jurisdiction, which are technical legal issues. An attorney will be able to tell you in which court you are able to file your case. Please contact us to schedule a free phone consultation about your legal problem.
How do I know that I can sue someone in Florida or if I need to sue them in federal court or another state?
This is another highly technical issue. A consultation with an attorney is your best option to know whether your case is required to be in federal court or state court. Please call us at 727-235-6461 for a free phone consultation about your legal problem. Attorneys at Richert Quarles P.A. are admitted to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
How do I know what causes of action that I can sue for?
This one is also getting into technical legal territory. Some cases are pretty simple, such as a simple breach of contract. Other cases are very complex and require the inclusion of numerous causes of action. An attorney will be able to identify the causes of action that can be applied to your case. Please contact us to schedule a free phone consultation about your legal problem.
Can I get my attorney’s fees and court costs reimbursed for either filing a lawsuit or defending a lawsuit?
This is dependent on several things. If you are suing for a breach of contract that contains a provision that states the prevailing party in a dispute is awarded attorney’s fees, then it is likely that in the event you are the prevailing party, the court will award fees in your favor. In other cases, you may only receive attorney’s fees if the law allows for it. An attorney will advise you on whether you may be able to be reimbursed for your attorneys fees if you are the prevailing party.
Professional Licensing FAQ
I’ve received a letter from a Florida state agency stating that an investigation has been opened into my conduct under my professional license. What should I do?
You need to talk to an attorney. The state agency is probably going to contact you and an attorney can advise you of your rights. An experienced professional license defense attorney may be able to contact the state agency to see what is going on and attempt to resolve the matter before it proceeds to an administrative complaint.
Do I need to talk to any state investigators from a Florida state agency that governs my professional license?
No, there is no requirement that you say anything to a Florida state agency that is investigating your license. The right to remain silent in professional license disciplinary proceedings was decided by the Florida Supreme Court in State ex rel. Vining v. Fla. Real Estate Comm’n, 281 So. 2d 487 (Fla. 1973). Do not talk to any investigator. Call an attorney as soon as possible.
I’ve been served with an administrative complaint. How do I defend it?
You will need to respond to the administrative complaint within 20 days of receipt with an answer and request for hearing. These responses can vary based upon the agency that issued the administrative complaint. Typically the agency will provide instructions stating the format of the response to the administrative complaint. It is best to consult and hire an attorney to represent you in the administrative complaint proceeding. If there are issues of material fact, it must be stated in the administrative complaint or you may lose the right to dispute those issues of fact.
How long does it take for a hearing to take place in a license revocation or suspension proceeding?
Typically a hearing in an administrative license disciplinary case will be initially scheduled for around 3-4 months from the date that the answer and request for hearing is filed. However, this can vary based upon the facts at issue and as discovery progresses in the case.
I’ve applied for a professional license a few months ago. I have not heard from the Florida state agency that they have approved my license and I have not received anything from the state agency stating that my application will be denied. What are my options?
An experienced attorney may be able to contact the state agency on your behalf to see what is going on with your license application. Typically, there is no way to speed it up. However, if the state agency is going to deny your license application, your attorney may be able to find out, and you can prepare to fight the denial.
I’ve received a Notice of Intent to Deny my Florida license application. What are my options to still be issued a license?
You need to talk to an attorney. You most likely have the option to go to a hearing to challenge the Notice of Intent to Deny. This is your chance to show the agency that you should be issued a license. Furthermore, requesting a hearing will give you and your attorney additional time to possibly negotiate a settlement with the agency, which may get you a licensed but with some restrictions or with required supervision for a period of time.
The Florida state agency that governs my license has sent me a letter asking me to enter into a settlement agreeing to a suspension or revocation of my professional license. What are my rights?
You need to talk to an attorney immediately. In our experience, when a license holder has potentially violated a statute or rule, the state professional licensing agency will tell the license holder that they can settle by agreeing to a voluntary revocation of their license. However, you may have a good case to fight the revocation and you may be able to limit the punishment to a suspension, if you did do something wrong. Only an attorney can tell you what your options are and if agreeing to a settlement is your best option.