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Florida Probate Blog

The Law Offices of Adrian Philip Thomas

Discovery of Trust Documents

Written by on Feb 13, 2018| Posted in: Trust Litigation

Boren v. Rogers, et al, 43 Fla. L. Weekly D274c In 2014, Ann Boren filed a complaint seeking to invalidate two trusts, one executed in 2013 and the other executed in 2014, on the grounds of undue influence.  The allegations in the amended complaint were that Evelyn Rivera befriended the decedent, Elaine Mullins, late in life while the decedent was in failing health and suffering from cognitive deficits and unduly influenced Ms. Mullins to execute the two trust instruments which excluded Ms. Boren from them.  Ms. Boren alleged that but for this undue influence she would have been a beneficiary.  The drafting attorney, Thomas Rogers, was also the named trustee of both the 2013 and the 2014 trusts.  In defending the lawsuit, Mr. Rogers argued that Ms. Boren lacked standing to challenge the trusts “because the trust was initially created in 1992 and ‘was amended and/or restated in 1996, 2000, […]

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Delayed Discovery Doctrine Applies to Undue Influence Claims

Written by on Jan 12, 2018| Posted in: Probate Litigation

Flanzer v. Kaplan, — So.3d — (2017 Wl 5759041) – Gloria and Louis Flanzer created a philanthropic trust in December 2005. By its terms, the trust became irrevocable at its creation. Louis died in June 2013 and Gloria died in March 2015. In November 2015, Jan Flanzer sued to challenge numerous estate planning documents executed by her parents, including the philanthropic trust.  Jan Flanzer alleged that during a period of time from at least 2001 until her mother’s death, the Trustees maintained a fiduciary relationship with her mother and served as her personal accountant, business and financial advisor, and attorney.  According to the complaint, Gloria Flanzer had diminished mental capacity during this period and was emotionally and mentally susceptible to the undue influence of the Trustees. Jan Flanzer further alleged that the Trustees exploited their confidential relationship with Gloria Flanzer to alienate and ultimately eliminate Jan Flanzer from her mother’s estate plan.  In Count V of Jan Flanzer’s complaint, she alleged that […]

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Premature Discharge of Personal Representative

Written by on Jan 11, 2018| Posted in: Probate

In re: Estate of Lillian L. Unanue (43 Fla.L.Weekly D70a) – On November 17, 2016, the co-personal representatives of the Estate of Lillian Unanue (“Estate”) filed a final accounting and petition for discharge.  The documents were served on the beneficiaries, including Robert and George Unanue.  The probate court entered an order of discharge on December 5, 2016, just 18 days after the petition was filed.  Subsequently, on December 16, 2016, Robert and George filed timely objections to the final accounting and petition for discharge, but the estate was already closed.  In the appeal, Robert and George sought reversal of the order of discharge because it was entered prematurely and curtailed their right to object to the accounting.  The Second District Court of Appeal agreed, citing Florida Probate Rule 5.400(b)(6), which states, in pertinent part, that “any objections to the accounting, the compensation paid or proposed to be paid, or the […]

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Ownership of Safe Deposit Box Contents

Written by on Jan 24, 2017| Posted in: General

Who owns the contents of a safe-deposit box when two people are on the box and one dies? The answer may depend on what is specifically provided in the lease or rental agreement with the bank.  In other words, does the bank have a written policy regarding who owns and/or who can enter the box in the event of death of one of the co-owners?  If the bank does not have specific rules, the Florida law provides that if a safe-deposit box is rented or leased in the names of two or more lessees, access to the safe-deposit box will be granted to either of them, regardless of whether or not the other lessee is living or competent.  But is access to the box the same as ownership of the content of the box?  First, there is no parallel statute that determines the ownership of the contents of safe deposit […]

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Due Process, Death and Taxes

Written by on Jan 9, 2017| Posted in: General

I have written extensively about the application of the due process requirements under both the Florida and United States Constitutions in previous blogs and cannot resist touching upon a recent opinion in a state court case applying federal due process law:  Kimberly Rice Kaesterner 1992 Family Trust v. North Carolina Dep’t of Revenue 789 S.E.2d 645 (N.C.Ct. App. 2016). New York probate and Florida probate lawyers understand that it has long been the law of the land that the fact that beneficiaries of a trust are not residents does not deprive property subject to the trust a situs in the state where the trustee is domiciled.   Typically, the trust property is taxed to the holder of the legal title—the trustee—or where the property is located.  The tax is not imposed on the trust beneficiary. In fact, Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and the United States Supreme Court has ruled that […]

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Trust Revocation: No Magic Art is Necessary

Written by on Dec 27, 2016| Posted in: Uncategorized

The Uniform Trust Code §602(c) provides that a settlor may revoke or amend a revocable trust by substantial compliance with a method provided in the terms of the trust or by any method manifesting clear and convincing evidence of the settlor’s intent.   Section 736.0602(3) of the Florida Trust Code is identical to the Uniform Code with respect to the revocation of trusts.  What is Clear and Convincing Evidence?  Florida trust lawyers know that ‘clear and convincing evidence’ is evidence that is precise, explicit, lacking in confusion, and of such weight that it produces a firm belief or conviction, without hesitation, about the matter in issue. BDO Seidman, LLP v. Banco Espirito Santo International, 38 So.3d 874 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011).  The standard of proof has also been described as an intermediate standard of proof, more than the ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard used in most civil cases, and less than […]

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Probate and Due Process in Florida

Written by on Dec 14, 2016| Posted in: General

DEATH, PROBATE AND DUE PROCESS:  Do the Notice Requirements Under the Florida Probate Code and Rules Pass Constitutional Muster? by Adrian P. Thomas, Michele M. Thomas and Daniel A. McGowan Property rights are among the basic substantive rights expressly protected by the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution and the Florida Constitution.[i]  Probate proceedings are in rem proceedings directed against property and against anyone claiming an interest in the property.[ii]  A proceeding to admit a will to probate affects the property rights of an interested person and that person is entitled to due process of law before those rights are extinguished, diminished or otherwise affected.   Due Process             The United States Supreme Court has held that “[a]n elementary and fundamental requirement of due process in any proceeding which is to be accorded finality is notice reasonable calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency […]

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Trustee’s Duty to Inform and Account

Written by on Dec 6, 2016| Posted in: Trust Litigation

A Trustee’s Duty to Inform and Account Under the Florida Law The essence of the trustee’s existence is to keep a trust’s beneficiaries adequately informed.  Florida probate practitioners, trust lawyers, and estate attorneys all recognize the reality that virtually all fiduciary litigation commences with a beneficiary not receiving a proper trust accounting or explanation of the trustee’s conduct.  The Florida Trust Code provides that a trustee has a duty to keep the “qualified beneficiaries” of an irrevocable trust reasonably informed of the trust and its administration.  Florida law also holds that while a trustee owes no duties to a contingent beneficiary, once the trust becomes irrevocable at the death of the settler, the beneficiary may sue for breach of a duty that the trustee owed to the settlor/beneficiary which was breached during the lifetime of the settlor and subsequently affects the interest of the vested beneficiary.  This general principle was […]

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Attorney-Client Privilege in Probate Litigation

Written by on Nov 18, 2016| Posted in: Probate Litigation

Death, Lawyers, and Loose Lips:  Third District Court of Appeals Clarifies Distinction Between Ethical duty of Confidentiality from Evidentiary Privilege The attorney client privilege dates back to the English Common Law of the late sixteenth century making it the first privilege the law recognized for confidential communication.  For example, see Dennis v. Codrington, 21 Eng.Rep. 53 (1580) (finding “A counselor not to be examined of any matter, wherein he hath been of counsel”).  Thus, it is generally accepted by Florida probate lawyers that the ethical rule of attorney-client confidentiality limits disclosure of information acquired during the scope of the representation.  The only exception is where the client consents to the disclosure.  Rule 4-1.6(a) of the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct articulates the prohibition of disclosure of confidential information: “A lawyer must not reveal information relating to representation of a client…unless the client gives informed consent.”    The sanctity of the […]

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Corya and Woodward

Written by on Jun 24, 2016| Posted in: Trust Litigation

LIMITATIONS ON PROCEEDINGS AGAINST TRUSTEES:  CORYA, WOODWARD AND FLA. STAT. §736.1008 The Florida Trust Code contains a section titled “limitations on proceedings against trustees” that is a limitation of actions and accrual of claims statute specifically applicable to claims for breach of fiduciary duty in the context of trusts.  Specifically, Fla. Stat. §736.1008 provides, in pertinent part, as follows (emphasis and commentary added for clarification): (1) Except as provided in subsection (2), all claims by a beneficiary against a trustee for breach of trust are barred as provided in chapter 95 as to: (a) All matters adequately disclosed in a trust disclosure document issued by the trustee, with the limitations period beginning on the date of receipt of adequate disclosure. NOTE:  (1)(a) provides that IF there is adequate disclosure in a trust disclosure document, THEN the 4-year statute of limitations (“SOL”) in Chapter 95 applies BUT the claim does not accrue until […]

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