A Florida Appeals court has ruled that a special appointed guardian does not have a claim for guardianship expenses against a deceased’s IRA accounts. ( Araguel v. Bryan, (Fla. Dist. Ct. App., No. 1D20-2789, August 17, 2022).
According to the court transcript, In October of 2019, Jane Kaigler Araguel became unable to care for herself. As a result, both of her children, Patrick J. Araguel, III, and Leslie Ladon Bryan, petitioned the trial court to become her emergency temporary guardian and the guardian of her person and property. Instead of appointing either of the children, the trial court appointed a professional emergency temporary guardian. In June of 2020, Ms. Araguel died.
After Mrs. A died, the trial court approved the Guardian’s motion to use her assets — including her IRAs — to pay for the guardian’s expenses, his attorney’s fees, and other costs associated with the guardianship.
IRA Creditor Protection
IRA’s are considered contract property, meaning that the owner of the IRA contracts with an IRA Custodian, to hold and invest the IRA funds, and to pay the funds directly to the contract’s named beneficiary(ies) upon the death of the IRA owner. As such, IRA assets do not pass through the owner’s Last Will and Testament, unless the owner’s estate is listed as the IRA beneficiary.
Protection of IRAs from the claims of creditors depends on the state of residence of the IRA owner. Most states have adopted some kind of creditor protection for IRA assets similar to the protection available for qualified retirement plans (ie. 401k, Profit Sharing, Pension Plans, etc.) that are governed by a Federal Law under the acronym ERISA. Simply stated, these assets are excluded from creditor claims such as bankruptcy and litigant claims, except for fraudulent transfers or a divorcing spouse. For a more detailed discussion about IRA creditor protection, click here.
Back to the Case
Mrs. A’s son appealed the trial court’s ruling, arguing that the IRA contracts were not subject to possession and management by the guardian upon Mrs. A’s death and that the death proceeds should have been immediately delivered over to the IRA beneficiaries. Furthermore, he argued that the IRA’s were protected from creditor claims under Florida law, and should therefore not be available to the Guardian for expenses incurred by the Guardian.
After a discussion of the specific meaning of words contained in the various Florida statutes, the court applied a “plain meaning of the terms ‘claim’ and ‘creditor,’ to rule in favor of the Plaintiff, Mrs. A’s son, and reversed the lower court’s decision. To read the full court transcript, click here.
- A properly executed Durable Power of Attorney granted to one or both of Mrs. A’s sons could have avoided a court-appointed guardianship and allowed either or both of them to manage her assets upon her incapacity.
- A revocable living trust that owned Mrs. A’s assets could have been used along with a Durable Power of Attorney to ensure continuity of the management of her financial affairs upon her incapacity.
- IRA’s often represent a significant percentage of an individual’s estate, yet what happens to them upon the owner’s death is controlled by a single piece of paper on file with the IRA Custodian, not the owner’s Last Will and Testament. Beneficiary forms should be regularly reviewed.
- Seek the advice of a qualified estate attorney when drafting any of these legal arrangements.