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Florida Probate Blog

Author: Michele M. Thomas

Florida Inheritance Law

Written by on Mar 26, 2010| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Questions regarding Florida Inheritance Law and Florida Inheritance Lawsuits. When Olga Kuhnreich died, she was unmarried and had no children.  She was survived by her niece, Conchita, and Sister Gladys.  Olga’s will named Conchita as the Personal Representative.  Conchita read the last will and testament after Olga’s death and was confused as to who was to inherit Olga’s home.  The confusion was Article Three of the Will, titled “Specific Bequests of Real and/or Personal Property,” concerned two parcels of real estate. First, a West Palm Beach condominium unit was gifted outright to two named beneficiaries. Second, “[f]rom the sale of: 202 N.W. 18 Street[,] Delray Beach, Florida 33444,” the will gifted specific dollar amounts to five persons: Robert Kuhnreich, $5,000; “Lane Abbot, AKA Orlando Abad,” $10,000; “David Mears, AKA David Abad,” $10,000; “Connie Abad, AKA Conchita Abad,” $30,000; and Maria De Cuena, $5,000.  Article Three ended with this sentence: “In […]

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Estate of Carpenter: Undue Influence

Written by on Mar 24, 2010| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…. How much ear bending is influence verses undue influence? As a law firm that focuses on probate, estate and trust litigation, we encounter all sorts of factual scenarios. In one case where our client was the longtime caregiver/friend of the decedent, a will contest was against the estate planning documents which left the estate substantially to the friend to the exclusion of a son and grandchild. The cause of action contesting the will sounds in undue influence and intentional interference with an expectancy. Throughout the course of the discovery, opposing counsel maintained that the care-giving services provided by our client amounted to overreaching and undue influence. However, as per the Second District Court of Appeal in Florida, the conduct of a person charged with: Undue influence, as it is required for invalidation of a will, must amount to over-persuasion, duress, force, coercion, or […]

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Guardianship and Power of Attorney

Written by on Mar 15, 2010| Posted in: General

Many clients request information on the differences between Guardianships and Powers of Attorney.  These are important topics when decisions must be made for a family member who has been deemed incapacitated, can no longer manage their own finances or make their own medical decisions. An ordinary or standard power of attorney document provides the authority for another person (the agent or attorney-in-fact) to make decisions and take actions on the principal’s behalf when the principal is unable to do so for himself or herself.  In the event the principal becomes physically incapacitated, and for example, they break a hip and need extensive rehabilitation, then the principal will not be able to attend to their normal monthly payment of bills or banking transactions.  Also, the principal may plan to take an extended trip or vacation, and may need to have documents executed while they are away.  The ordinary or standard power […]

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ELDERLY EXPLOITATION vs CIVIL THEFT

Written by on Mar 1, 2010| Posted in: Estate Litigation

DISTINGUISHING DAMAGES SOUGHT BY FIDUCIARIES AND INDIVIDUALS UNDER FLORIDA STATUTES §415.1111 and §772.11 When trying to decide between which cause of action to file against a person who has committed financial exploitation against or theft from a vulnerable or disabled adult, one must first establish who has been damaged, the vulnerable or disabled adult themselves, or an individual with an expectancy in inheritance or other interest expected from the vulnerable or disabled adult, and whose expectancy or interest was lost or diminished as a result of the exploitation or theft against the vulnerable adult. Pursuant to Fla. Stat. §415.1111, “A vulnerable adult who has been abused, neglected, or exploited . . . has a cause of action against any perpetrator and may recover actual and punitive damages for such abuse, neglect, or exploitation.” [reproduced below] The action may only be brought by the vulnerable adult, or that person’s guardian, by […]

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Substituted Parties

Written by on Feb 24, 2010| Posted in: Estate Litigation

What Happens When a Party Dies During a Lawsuit? One of the hotly-contested issues among Florida probate lawyers in the context of inheritance lawsuits involving beneficiaries of wills and trusts is whether and to what extent appellate courts have jurisdiction over orders entered in Florida lawsuits involving last wills and testaments and lawsuits involving Florida trusts, trustees and beneficiaries.  Generally, Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.110, which governs “Appeal Proceedings to Review Final Orders of Lower Tribunals and Orders Granting New Trial in Jury and Non-Jury Cases,” applies to proceedings that seek review of orders in probate and guardianship matters that finally determine a right or obligation of an interested person as defined in the Florida Probate Code.”   The dissenting opinion in one recent case in the First District Court of Appeals in Florida dealt with the issue of whether the  a court’s determination of whether notice of was properly served […]

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Appellate Standards of Review

Written by on Jan 26, 2010| Posted in: General

The appellate process is often a confusing landmine of rules, procedures and traps for the unwary.  One of the essential elements for an inheritance lawyer in understanding the appellate review process is the applicable standard of review for particular issues addressed in the court of appeals.  In Florida, in the context of inheritance law court decisions, the different district courts of appeal are not required to defer to lower tribunals on issues of law.  Stated another way, appellate review of a decision that is based on a legal conclusion involves no more than a determination whether the applicable issue of law was correctly decided in the lower tribunal. This concept is commonly referred to as the de novo review doctrine.

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Pretermitted Children: Evidence Must Be Compelling to Disinherit

Written by on Jan 22, 2010| Posted in: General

What is a Pretermitted Child? A pretermitted heir describes a person who would likely stand to inherit under a Last Will and Testament, except that the person who wrote the Will did not know or did not know of the child at the time the Will was written.  Many jurisdictions have enacted statutes that allow a pretermitted child to demand an inheritance under the Will  Florida’s probate code provides when a testator omits to provide by Will for any of his or her children born after making the Will and the child has not received a part of the testator’s property equivalent to a child’s part by way of advancement, the child shall receive a share of the estate equal in value to that which the child would have received if the testator had died intestate, unless it appears from the Will that the omission was intentional, or the testator […]

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Elder Abuse

Written by on Jan 12, 2010| Posted in: General

The following article is published on the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse website, which can be accessed by clicking this link. Mental Capacity, Consent, and Undue Influence What do these concepts have to do with preventing elder abuse and neglect? Evaluating alleged elder abuse often involves determining what an older person understands or understood in the past. Inducing someone to sign a legal document or give a gift, for example, may constitute abuse if the person does not fully understand the transaction, appreciate the value of what they are giving away, or comprehend the implications of what they are doing. One of the first questions often raised in abuse investigations is “did this person understand what he or she was doing when he gave a gift or transferred property. Was coercion, trickery, or undue influence employed?” All Americans have a Constitutional right to exercise choice about how […]

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Probate Appeals

Written by on Jan 5, 2010| Posted in: Estate Litigation

The issue of what probate rulings are appealable in the context of will contests and probate litigation is complicated, confusing, and subject to debate among jurists and attorneys in Florida.  Generally, the issue is governed by appellate rules, which authorize appeals of “orders entered in probate and guardianship matters that finally determine a right or obligation of an interested person[.]”  Due to the ambiguity of the language of the rule, the Florida Supreme Court has offered guidance in the form of comments to an amendment to one of the rules: “[I]n probate and guardianship proceedings it is not unusual to have several final orders entered during the course of the proceeding that address many different persons.  An order of the circuit court that determines a right, an obligation or the standing of an interested person as defined by the Florida Probate Code may be appealed before the administration of the […]

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Tick Tock

Written by on Dec 28, 2009| Posted in: General

District Courts Uphold Probate Court Dismissals of Untimely Filed Claims. Creditors of estates typically must file a claim against a probate estate within three months of receiving notice that the decedent had died and a probate estate has been opened.  Otherwise, the creditor (or anyone else seeking a claim against an estate) is generally limited to two years following the decedent’s date of death to seek recovery of money from a probate estate.  These principals have been codified by the Florida legislature in the Probate Code. The two leading cases interpreting these sections of the Probate Code are Comerica Bank & Trust, FSB v. SDI Operating Partners, LP, 673 So.2d 163 (Fla.4th DCA 1996) and  May v. Illinois Nat. Ins. Co. 771 So.2d 1143 (Fla. 1999).  Comerica involved an action arising from alleged environmental pollution of land once owned by the Decedent.  The current owner of the polluted land filed […]

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