What Can We Learn From Meryl Streep? Insights into Homestead Law in Florida

It was reported that while Meryl Streep and Don Gummer celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary on Sept. 30, they’ve also been separated for more than 6 years! The two reportedly respect and love each other (blah blah blah) but have chosen to live their lives apart.

So, what can we learn from a situation when It’s Complicated?

Understanding Homestead Law in Florida

We can discuss whether in Florida, separated spouses may each claim a separate homestead property. “Homestead” is a construct of the Florida constitution where a “family unit” was defined somewhat narrowly and the Courts have held that married individuals can obtain separate exemptions only when they have established separate permanent residences and separate family units.

Clarifying the Law

In 2023, we can rely on Florida Administrative Code 12D-7.007 to clarify what a “family unit” looks like:

(7) A married woman and her husband may establish separate permanent residences without showing “impelling reasons” or “just ground” for doing so. If it is determined by the property appraiser that separate permanent residences and separate “family units” have been established by the husband and wife, and they are otherwise qualified, each may be granted homestead exemption from ad valorem taxation under Article VII, Section 6, 1968 State Constitution. The fact that both residences may be owned by both husband and wife as tenants by the entireties will not defeat the grant of homestead ad valorem tax exemption to the permanent residence of each.

Legal Precedents

There are quite a few case laws providing context to the code above clarifying that the spouses may not use the dual homestead to avoid creditors (seems obvious, but someone had to test it out). Additionally, there could be only one homestead claimed by spouses in an intact marriage (also seems obvious, this is not to give a secondary home creditor protection or a reduced tax bill) as an intact marriage is typically one “family unit”.

No Loopholes Allowed

Finally, if the spouses split their time together between two properties, they may not claim homestead on both properties. Nice try, people!

So, there we have it. We learn that a Florida resident must be able to show that he or she had established a separate permanent residence from his or her spouse to benefit from two homestead residencies and if it’s found that a Florida homestead exemption was incorrectly granted, the county property appraiser can retroactively remove the exemptions. Yikes!

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With over 50 years of combined experience, our probate, estate planning, real estate, elder law and asset protection attorneys provide peace of mind for our clients throughout South Florida.

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