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Florida Probate Blog

The Law Offices of Adrian Philip Thomas

RETROACTIVE DUE PROCESS IN PROBATE

Written by on Jan 20, 2016| Posted in: General

Typically, when the Supreme Court of the United States announces a new Rule of Federal Constitutional Law dealing with due process, the new Rules are applied retroactively. However, Florida probate courts are left with the power and discretion to carve out exceptions to the general rule in their own probate, will, trust and adoption jurisprudence.

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Will Substitutes in Florida

Written by on Jan 5, 2016| Posted in: Probate Litigation

THE CONFUSING LAW OF WILL SUBSTITUTES “Many legal doctrines today appear jarringly, carelessly, almost randomly out of harmony with one another.  The chaos has gone largely undetected and hence, has continued to swirl unimpeded.  But it is there to be seen, if we only care to look.  To observe the chaos, one has simply to forsake all instruments of magnification and scan the skies with the naked eye.”             -Adam Hirsch, Professor of Law, Florida State University. Professor Hirsch’s enlightened and succinct summary of the inconsistencies in the law of inheritance is most apparent when viewing the body of law surrounding the issue of Will Substitutes.  The increasing use of Will Substitutes to dispose of property upon death has caused great confusion among both practitioners and lay persons in the State of Florida.  Compounding the confusion problem is the fact that our probate law practice is […]

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Pay-on-Death Accounts can be invalidated for undue influence

Written by on Dec 15, 2015| Posted in: Estate Litigation

A POD designation can be invalidated for undue influence and recipient of the funds ordered to return the funds. Many Estate plans involve what are commonly referred to as “pay-on-death” or “POD” accounts.  These accounts are commonly created as a will substitute to allow the distribution of assets directly to the beneficiary after the death of the decedent in order to avoid probate.  As is the case with a Will or a Trust, POD accounts are subject to invalidation based on undue influence.  Florida courts have also recently held that the individuals in receipt of the POD funds can be ordered to return those funds in the event the POD designation is found to be invalid.  Pennie L. Keul v Hodges Blvd. Presbyterian Church, 40 Fla. L. Weekly D2619c (Fla. 1st DCA November 24, 2015). A POD designation is a will “substitute” that does not transfer ownership of funds until […]

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Curator vs. Personal Representative

Written by on Dec 14, 2015| Posted in: General

  There are several scenarios that we are presented with wherein the appointment of a curator (or neutral fiduciary) is warranted for the administration of an estate.  However, what happens when the alleged tortfeasor (whether a brother, sister, step-mother, etc.) has already been appointed as the personal representative of the estate, but we know that he/she should not be because of some prior bad conduct regarding the Estate’s assets.  Regardless of the bad conduct, who would administer the estate while you are trying to prove that case? Fla. Stat. §731.201 defines a “curator” as a person who is appointed by the probate court to take charge of the estate until letters of administration are issued (in other words, until a specific personal representative is appointed).  A curator is essentially someone neutral who is appointed to temporarily administer an estate.  Many probate attorneys request that a curator be appointed while there […]

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Florida Probate Creditor Claims

Written by on Nov 11, 2015| Posted in: General

We have previously written entries regarding Fla. Stat. §733.702 and the time limitation for filing a creditor claim in an estate proceeding.  This time limitation includes a claim founded upon the wrongful act of the decedent where the decedent’s estate would owe you some sort of financial award or relief.  Once expired, an extension of the time limitation may only be granted upon grounds of fraud, estoppel, or insufficient notice of the claims period. Fla. Stat. §733.2121 further discusses the procedure a personal representative must adhere to in order to commence this timeframe for creditors to file their respective claims.  Pursuant to this statute, the personal representative must publish a notice to creditors in a newspaper in the county where the estate is being administered and must make a diligent search to serve a copy of the notice to creditors on any reasonably ascertainable creditors.  The definition of a ‘reasonably […]

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Who has standing to assert claim for tortious interference with an expectancy?

Written by on Oct 21, 2015| Posted in: Estate Litigation

TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE WITH AN EXPECTANCY IS AN INTENTIONAL TORT AND THE DISAPPOINTED BENEFICIARY IS THE PERSON WITH STANDING TO BRING THE CLAIM Tortious interference with an expectancy has been a recognized tort theory in Florida since 1966.  Allen v. Leybourne 190 So.2d 825 (Fla. 3d DCA 1966) (“when there is an allegation that the testator had a fixed intention to make a bequest in favor of the plaintiff and there existed a strong probability that this intention would have been carried out but for the wrongful acts of the defendant there exists a cause of action”).    Several years later, the Third District Court of Appeals upheld the following jury instructions in a tortious interference with an expectancy case: The issues for your determination on the claim of the Plaintiff are whether prior to a certain date, Decedent had a formed, fixed intention to give Plaintiff a share of his estate, and, if […]

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Mediation and Settlement Agreements

Written by on Oct 13, 2015| Posted in: General

Misrepresentations by Tortfeasor During Mediation: Fool Me Once… So you’ve sued someone for undue influence, tortious interference with expectancy of inheritance or a similar tort grounded upon fraud. It is well-settled in Florida that such causes of action are based upon fraud and must be pled with specificity. Although the Florida Supreme Court did acknowledge in In re Carpenter’s Estate, 253 So.2d 697 (Fla. 1971) that undue influence by its very nature is committed in secret and thus is not susceptible to direct proof, plaintiffs are faced with another dilemma when trying to settle undue influence cases at mediation: “What else did the defendant do that we don’t know about?” Deciding whether and upon what terms to settle a case is often difficult enough, so the unknown only makes it even more difficult when contemplating whether to give the defendant a full general release. While Florida law does provide a […]

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DeWitt and the Importance of Adequate Probate Remedies

Written by on Oct 6, 2015| Posted in: Estate Litigation

When is “failure to exhaust probate remedies” properly asserted as an affirmative defense to a tortious interference with an expectancy action?  The answer is almost never.  (Click here for information about the tort action.) The Dewitt v. Duce, 408_So.2d_216, (Fla. 1981), holding can be paraphrased as follows:  The State of Florida has an interest in the orderly succession of property and therefore prefers that a dispute concerning a decedent’s property be conducted in probate shortly after the decedent’s death rather than in a civil action years later.  Therefore, if you can achieve exactly the same result with a Will contest that you could with a tortious interference law suit, then you must chose the Will contest.  If you do not chose the Will contest, then you will be unable to sue for tortious interference later for one simple reason:  “The probate of a Will in Florida is conclusive of its due […]

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Reasonably Ascertainable Creditors

Written by on Oct 5, 2015| Posted in: General

How long does a creditor have to file a claim in the probate estate? Many clients ask how long it takes for an estate to be completely administered.  The answer is: it depends. One of the several factors that will affect the timeframe is how many and what type of creditor claims are filed in the estate.  Once a creditor claim is filed, the estate (through the personal representative) must properly address the claim. Fla. Stat. §733.701 states that every personal representative must publish and serve a notice to creditors.  This notice to creditors will place any prospective creditor of an estate on notice that they have a certain time period within which to file a claim.  If the creditor does not timely file a claim, it will be forever barred and that creditor cannot recoup any funds from the estate. Therefore, the essential question that every personal representative and […]

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Qualified Renunciation

Written by on Aug 19, 2015| Posted in: General

Part II As we’ve previously written about on this blog, while one of the pleading requirements for a Will Contest or Trust Contest in Florida is a general allegation in the complaint that the contestant renounces any benefit he or she receives under the challenged document, “qualified renunciation of benefits” is a technical pleading requirement, and equity does not require actual return of benefits received in every situation. See, Qualified Renunciation) Last July we blogged about Fintak v. Fintak, 120 So.3d 177 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013), a case in which the court refused to apply the renunciation rule to allow for the dismissal of a claim made by a beneficiary who had received benefits that he would have received regardless of the instruments he was attacking. The rationale behind the Fintak decision was that the contestant did not receive under the challenged document “a benefit to which he would not be entitled […]

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