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Florida Probate Blog

Yearly Archives: 2009

Trust Reformation

Written by on Jun 29, 2009| Posted in: Trust Litigation

Does a Trustee, Acting Alone, Have Standing to Seek Trust Reformation? The enactment of Florida’s new Trust Code invited many unanswered questions, and the question of whether a trustee, acting solely in her capacity as trustee, has standing to seek reformation of a trust was presented to our appellate court in Reid v. Temple Judea, 994 So.2d 1146 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2007).  The case involved a trust executed by Edgar Sonder who named Ceclia as trustee.  On May 17, 2000, Edgar Sonder executed a trust naming himself as trustee.   After Sonder’s death, his estate was probated and finding trust funds insufficient to pay all of the gifts provided for in Sonder’s will, Reid moved to abate the enumerated pecuniary gifts proportionately. Reid also claimed that the apartment was a devise, not subject to abatement.

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Personal Representative’s and Attorney’s Fees in Probate

Written by on Jun 16, 2009| Posted in: General

Attorneys who represent the personal representative or otherwise provide services to the probate estate are generally entitled to fees as allowed under the Florida Probate Code. Fla.Stat. §733.6171. In order to be entitled to fees, however, the attorney, or anyone else (like an accountant) seeking fees from the estate must show that the services provided were beneficial to the estate. What constitutes a “benefit” to an estate is often subject to debate, but most will agree that an attorney benefits an estate by bringing about an enhancement in value or an increase in the assets of the estate or by aiding in establishing the intent of the decedent and the proper division of the estate generally. A good discussion of what benefits an estate can be found in Segal v. Levine, 489 So.2d 868 (Fla.3d DCA 1986).

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What Constitutes a Contest In No Contest Provision?

Written by on Jun 16, 2009| Posted in: Probate Litigation

A no-contest clause, also called an in terrorem clause, is a topic I have discussed previously in my blog. Readers may remember that an in terrorem clause is a written sentence in a testamentary instrument (will or trust) that is designed to threaten someone, into refraining from action, or ceasing to act. The phrase is typically used to refer to a clause in a will or trust that threatens to disinherit a beneficiary if that beneficiary challenges the terms of the will or trust. The Uniform Probate Code, §2-517 allows for no contest clauses so long as the person challenging the will doesn’t have probable cause to do so. Some states, like Ohio, allow for “living probate” and “ante mortem” probate, which are statutory provisions which authorize testators to institute an adversary proceeding during their life to declare the validity of the will, in order to avoid later will contests. […]

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A Curator’s Concern

Written by on Jun 15, 2009| Posted in: General

Court of Appeals Says Curator Cannot Impose Lien on Occupied Homestead Property What is a Curator? Sometimes curators are appointed by the probate court to administer the estate under certain circumstances where a personal representative or executor cannot serve. There are a variety of these situations, but what always remains the same is the general duty of the curator to collect the testator’s effects, pay claims against his estate, and distribute the residue to those entitled. Also uniform, is the well settled law in Florida that curator or personal representative does not have an unrestricted right to use estate assets as his own, and the probate code provides that assets of an estate shall be assets in the hands of personal representative or curator for specific purposes only, with significant restriction that he or she act reasonably for the benefit of the interested persons. A curator’s possession of estate assets […]

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The Probate Exception to Federal Court Jurisdiction

Written by on Jun 3, 2009| Posted in: General

Sometimes it is beneficial for a party to file a lawsuit in the federal court system. This can be for many reasons: amount of damages, convenience, accelerated docket, formality, and the perception of getting fair and just treatment for out of state litigants. Generally speaking, disputes concerning probate matters involve petitions and appeals to the state court system as opposed to the federal courts. This is for a variety of reasons, however, the one most articulated by federal court judges for refusing to hear a probate dispute is something called the federal court jurisdiction probate exception.

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Power of Attorney: Sword and Sheild?

Written by on Jun 1, 2009| Posted in: General

Just how far will a power of attorney reach even when you don’t want it to reach all that far? It’s generally a good idea to have a written power of attorney you, in the event you become incapable of making your own decisions. The power of attorney will authorize someone to act for you and your best interests by conducting your financial and legal affairs. Many questions arise in the probate and trust litigation context regarding whether, and to what extent, a person can act for another under a written power of attorney. Often, questions arise as to whether a written power of attorney grants certain powers that are not specifically addressed in the written document.

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Revocable Trusts and Undue Influence

Written by on May 29, 2009| Posted in: Trust Litigation

Court of Appeals Expands Reach of Genova There is growing concern over our legislature’s inability to make laws protecting the elderly and vulnerable against having their revocable trust funds taken from them during their lives. This is a topic I have previously discussed. (See blog dated September 25, 2008, Undue Influence and Trust Revocation.) The problems addressed in my earlier blog articles arise from the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion issued twenty-five years ago in Florida National Bank of Palm Beach County v. Genova, 460 So. 2d 895 (Fla. 1984). As is evident from the Fourth District Court of Appeals ruling this week in MacIntyre v. Wedell, (Fla. 4th DCA, 08-754), 34 Fla.L.Weekly D1011a (May 20, 2009), Genova is alive and will remain so unless and until our elected officials decide to change the law.

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Reopening a Closed Estate

Written by on May 19, 2009| Posted in: General

Third District Says No to Serial PetitionerA recent opinion issued by our Third District Court of Appeals in Betancourt v. Estate of Victoria Misdraji, 34 Fla.L.Weekly D912a (Fla.3rd DCA May 6, 2009) reminded me of the enormous discretion vested in a probate court to reopen an estate. Typically, a probate estate is reopened following the discovery of assets that were not discovered during the original estate administration. The Uniform Probate Code provides for this very scenario: Section 3-1008. Subsequent Administration. If other property of the estate is discovered after an estate has been settled and the personal representative discharged or after one year after a closing statement has been filed, the Court upon petition of any interested person and upon notice as it directs may appoint the same or a successor personal representative to administer the subsequently discovered estate. If a new appointment is made, unless the Court orders otherwise, […]

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Standing in Probate

Written by on May 12, 2009| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Third District Applies General Agency Principals to Issue of Who is Real Party in Interest A quick glance at any court docket these days will reveal that many foreclosure actions are being prosecuted by someone other than the real party in interest. While it is generally acceptable for an authorized agent to bring a lawsuit on behalf of a principal in a civil action, how and to what extent is this rule recognized in the probate arena? Generally, in actions by or against a probate estate, the personal representative of the estate is a necessary and indispensable party. There is a lot of decisional case law in Florida holding that in cases involving claims made by or against an estate, the estate and its survivors are the real parties in interest, and the personal representative is merely a nominal party.

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Stock Splits and Changes in Securities in Probate

Written by on May 8, 2009| Posted in: General

Probate attorneys frequently face issues dealing with the change of character of an asset included in a person’s estate plan. These issue typically occur when a person dies and the specified asset has either changed in character and/or value in terms of quantity and/or quality. People often include their securities in their estate plan. Sometimes, we discover that a gift in a will of a specific number of securities (i.e., 100 shares of ABC stock) carries with it any additional securities acquired by the person after writing his will. This raise the question regarding whether the beneficiary of the specific gift is to receive only the specified number or all of the shares of that named stock. Questions also arise when a person owned securities named in a will but later sold some of those securities after the will was executed and purchased another type of security not specified in […]

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