This month I am honored to feature probate, guardianship and estate planning attorney extraordinaire, Irama Valdes, for our SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to sit with us, Irama. First off, please tell our readers about yourself. What sort of cases do you handle in your practice?
A: It’s a pleasure to sit with you, Elina. As this new year begins, it is a great time to spotlight my type of practice, and I am very grateful you chose me! I primarily handle three areas of law: Probate, Guardianship and Estate Planning. Probate is a legal process used after someone passes to determine their heirs (referred to as beneficiaries) and distribute the assets to the beneficiaries, whether by will (testate) or by the inheritance statute of our state if the person died without a will (intestate). A guardianship is a legal proceeding where the court determines a person incapacitated, (at that point, they are referred to as a “Ward”), whether wholly or to an extent, and appoints an individual to make medical and financial decisions for that incapacitated person. And lastly, estate planning is the preparation of documents which document your wishes for both your potential incapacity, including avoidance of a guardianship, and for your passing, like a Last Will and Testament.
Q: Wow. That sounds complicated.
A: Well, it can be, if you don’t have any help. One of my favorite parts of my practice is education. I enjoy taking the time to explain the intricacies of each case or estate plan to my clients so that they truly understand what’s going on. Knowledge is power.
Q: What prompted you to become this type of attorney?
A: The short version? My abuela did. My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was 16 years old. At that point, she still knew who I was and where she was living, but for the life of her, could not remember where she had placed her purse. The memory issues transitioned from the simple, “Where is my wallet?” to the complex, “Who are you?” I remember my mom and aunt dealing with ALF’s (Adult Living Facilities), and financial institutions. They were so frustrated sometimes. I realized their frustration, but it wasn’t until I decided to practice in this area that I actually understood what went on. I vowed to help others through these very difficult issues and most of my clients leave my office mostly happy, but almost always relieved.
Q: Have you always practiced in this field?
A: Yes. Since law school I knew this is where I was headed so I interned for the 11th Judicial Circuit Court’s Probate Division during my last semester and worked for the very judges I go before. I later went on to become a case manager where I learned the in’s and out’s of a probate and guardianship case and worked closely with the senior probate division supervisor. That has been the most helpful part of my court experience. I also made some everlasting relationships with the awesome probate staff!
Q: What sort of cases are you most passionate about?
A: I have to say that the most impactful cases are those where I act as a Court-Appointed Attorney for an alleged incapacitated person. This is the beginning of a potential guardianship, usually of an elderly or ill person but not always, and it is the point in a guardianship whereby the individual’s capacity is being determined. The Court appoints an unbiased attorney from a randomized “wheel” to represent the interests of the individual whose capacity is in question. It is crucial that these individuals maintain as many rights as possible. It’s a privilege to have a hand in something so important as an individual’s rights.
Q: What kind of rights are delegated to someone in a guardianship?
A: There are several rights that we have, for example, the right to marry, the right to contract, the right to apply for government benefits, and many others. Sometimes, an individual is only found to be slightly incapacitated. In these cases, aptly titled a limited guardianship, the court only gives the guardian authority over a select number of rights.
Q: Is there any connection between immigration and probate, guardianship or estate planning?
A: Where do I begin? YES! If a nonresident dies in the United States owning assets over a certain amount (currently $55,000.00), their estate will be responsible for the payment of estate tax to the IRS. This is the main reason nonresidents should place great importance on the preparation of an efficient estate plan to help minimize the tax burden on their estate, and ultimately, their beneficiaries. With regard to guardianships, if an individual is under a guardianship, it could assist in maintaining their status in the United States. But they’ll need to ask you exactly how as you’re my go-to immigration expert!
Q: Should out of status individuals be afraid of appearing in probate or guardianship court?
A: Not at all. Probate court judges are not generally concerned with immigration status, unless it directly affects an issue in the case, for example, the individual who is under a guardianship does not reside in this county. Then the guardianship, if already established, would need to be transferred to the Ward’s resident country.
Q: What do you like best about your work?
A: I love that I help individuals transition from a frustrating or stressful situation into something manageable. Whether it’s caring for an elderly person, or preparing an estate plan for a family with minor children, there is often a peace-of-mind that comes with my practice and what we do for our clients. Likewise, losing a family member is a horrible experience, and one that most people have to deal with. I love being the one that helps individuals move forward with their lives and not have to worry about the details. I am more than just a probate & guardianship attorney. I’m a mental health counselor, I am a hand-holder, I am a confidant and always an officer of the court. My clients often come to me feeling alone and scared, but when they leave my office, they know that I am there to take care of them and their situation, and to always do the right thing. That brings me such great pleasure.
Q:How can our subscribers reach you for a consultation?
A: I can be reached at (786) 671-7829 or via e-mail at ivaldes@ProbateLawMiami.com. They can also visit our website where we provide a plethora of useful information. The website address is: www.ProbateLawMiami.com. Thank you again!
Thank you, Irama, for sharing your knowledge with our subscribers. This is Elina signing off until next month’s spotlight interview. Have a great month!