Florida’s homestead laws and protections have been referred to by the commentators as Florida’s ‘legal chameleon’ because like a chameleon it is ever changing “to accord with the background against which it is viewed”. There are, however, certain “distinct contours that remain distinguishable amid the camouflage of varying factual situations” (Crosby and Miller, Our Legal Chameleon: The Florida Homestead Exemption, 2 U. Fla. L. Rev. 12 (1949)). There are three distinct protections of Florida’s homestead laws, each having its own constitutional and statutory parameters, but sharing the same purpose: preserving the family home for its owners and heirs:
(i) Asset Protection: Exemption from Creditors Claims (Art. X §§4(a)-(b)), Fla. Const.);
(ii) Family Protection: Restrictions on Alienation (Art. X §4(c) Fla. Const.); and
(iii) Tax Protection: Tax Exemptions and Benefits (Art. VII 6, Fla. Const.)
Florida’s laws on “homestead” are complex and require a complete understanding for succession, tax and financial planning purposes. There are three significant limitations that must be satisfied to qualify for the homestead protections: an acreage limitation, a residency limitation and an ownership limitation. A person’s “homestead” means something different for each of the protections above, and each area has its own requirements and exceptions that are constantly changing in Florida. Florida’s “homestead” laws are ever evolving due to constant legislative and constitutional changes and court interpretations in both state court and federal bankruptcy proceedings.
One significant difference between the three protections is that while a person’s homestead automatically qualifies for the asset protection and family protection, in order to be afforded any tax exemptions and benefits, an owner must make a separate filing with the property appraiser in the county in which the homestead is located. Florida’s homestead tax exemption and benefits are NOT automatic.
The presenters for Dean Mead’s seminar, NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN FLORIDA’S HOMESTEAD LAW; WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW, held a presentation on October 11, 2012 that walked attendees through the nuances of each distinct protection afforded to Florida homestead property and the limitations for each. They also explained what qualifies as homestead, how you can lose your protections, the restrictions on transfers during your life and upon your death, and how you ensure that your homestead is afforded all of the legal protections available. The attorneys discussed the most recent changes in the statutory and case law interpretations regarding homestead property and its protections including the current status of the “Save Our Homes Cap” tax benefit and a detailed analysis of how “Portability” has been implemented.
Please see this link to the newly issued Supreme Court decision on Homestead Law that was rendered on October 4, 2012: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2012/sc11-554.pdf.