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Florida Probate Blog

Category: Estate Litigation

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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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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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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Can a contract defeat testamentary intent?

Written by on May 26, 2015| Posted in: Estate Litigation

In a word, yes. In a blow to the unwed in the State of Florida, the Fourth District Court of Appeal recently held that an operating agreement entered into by a deceased business owner (the “Decedent”) trumped his stated testamentary intent to provide his longtime girlfriend with a lifetime payment of $5,000.00 per month, which was to be paid out of distributions from the company the Decedent formed with his sister.  Blechman v. Estate of Blechman, 160 So.3d 152 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015).  Despite the fact that the Decedent in Blechman had amended his trust to “to provide a ‘specific gift’ of his residence and ‘one half of the distributions from [his company], to’ a trustee for the benefit of  the Decedent’s girlfriend,” the Court refused to uphold the trial court’s order, which would have ensured the Decedent’s girlfriend received the $5,000.00 per month gift the Decedent’s estate plan provided. […]

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Elective Share for the Surviving Spouse

Written by on Jul 2, 2014| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Can we agree to something else? The law in Florida is clear in its intentions to protect a surviving spouse from being disinherited.  Fla. Stat. 732.201-732.2155 specifies the applicable rules for a surviving spouse to claim the elective share, which essentially provides that a spouse is entitled to receive 30% of the decedent’s assets upon his or her demise.  This law effectively prevents a spouse from being completely disinherited. Additionally, “no contest” clauses are provisions in trusts that attempt to prevent or discourage beneficiaries from filing lawsuits relating to a trust by penalizing the beneficiary (typically by causing that beneficiary’s share of the trust to be forfeit).  However, Fla. Stat. 736.1108(1) provides that “no contest” clauses in trusts are unenforceable because they may wrongfully punish a beneficiary who is attempting to remedy the bad acts of another and/or effectuate someone true testamentary intent. However, can the settlor of a trust […]

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Proving Testator’s Mental Capacity

Written by on Jun 25, 2014| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Florida Statute 732.501 requires, amongst other things, that the testator be “of sound mind” when executing the Will. Testamentary capacity means the ability to understand generally the nature and extent of one’s property, the relationship of those who would be the natural objects of the testator’s bounty and the practical effect of a will. In re Wilmott’s Estate, 66 So. 2d 465 (Fla. 1953), 40 A.L.R. 2d 1399. However, competency is generally presumed, and the burden of proving incompetency is on the contestant F.S. 733.107 (10; In Re Estate of Weihe, 268 So. 2d 446 (Fla. 4th DCA 1972) This is a heavy burden to overcome based on the presumption of competency. It has been stated that “even a lunatic may make a will….in a lucid interval.” Murrey v. Barnett National Bank of Jacksonville, 74 So. 2d 647, 649 (Fla. 1954) Even the showing of incapacity on other days does […]

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Successor Personal Representative May Sue Attorney for Estate

Written by on Jun 10, 2014| Posted in: Estate Litigation

FLORIDA APPELLATE COURT RULES SUCCESSOR PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE IS ALLOWED TO SUE A FORMER PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE’S ATTORNEY FOR MALPRACTICE Bookman v. Davidson, — So.3d —-, 2014 WL 1772707 (Fla. 1st DCA May 05, 2014) A lawsuit was filed in Florida alleging the initial personal representative, with her lawyer’s guidance, improperly disclaimed or transferred out of the estate certain assets belonging to the estate that could have been used to pay its creditors.  A trial court ruled that a successor personal representative does not have standing to bring a legal malpractice action against the Florida attorney who was hired by the initial personal representative to aid her in the administration of the estate. The appellate court reversed and stated that the powers, duties, and obligations of the personal representative apply not only to the estate, but also to other individuals related to the estate’s administration, including its beneficiaries, creditors, contractors, accountants, and […]

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Oral Agreement to Divide Inheritance

Written by on Jun 10, 2014| Posted in: Estate Litigation

ORAL AGREEMENTS SUFFICIENT UNDER FLORIDA LAW TO DIVIDE INHERITANCE FROM PARENTS Can siblings verbally agree to divide an inheritance prior to their parent’s or grandparent’s death?  The answer in Florida is Yes. In is widely accepted that in order for an agreement between parties to be legally binding and enforceable by a court or judge, at least four elements must be present:  (1) offer; (2) acceptance; (3) specific terms; and (4) consideration.  What is consideration? Consideration is simply a bargained for change in legal position between the parties.    One way to describe how the element of consideration is usually viewed by courts is to look at whether or not the parties making the promises to each other are either doing something that they are not under a legal obligation to do;  or refraining from doing something that they have a legal right to do (i.e., surrender or forebear from asserting […]

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WILL DISPUTES AND MEDIATED SETTLEMENT AGREEMENTS

Written by on Dec 19, 2013| Posted in: Estate Litigation

by Adrian Thomas When can a mediated settlement agreement be set aside? The First District Court of Appeal recently decided Pierce v. Pierce (In re Estate of Pierce), 2013 Fla. App. LEXIS 19597, 2013 WL 6438955 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. Dec. 10, 2013), which succinctly addressed the issue of when a mediated settlement agreement may be set aside or vacated. Pierce involved a will dispute between two sisters, Linda and Tamra Pierce.  After contentious litigation, the parties went to mediation.  The morning after mediation, Linda had second thoughts about the settlement agreement and sought to set it aside (vacate) it.  The lower court judge held that he could not find that Linda had “freely, knowingly and intelligently entered into the agreement.”  The First DCA reversed, not only because the lower court’s finding was unsupported by competent substantial evidence, but also because the lower court applied the wrong standard.  […]

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Freezing Assets: Putting a Stop to Ongoing Injury

Written by on Jul 29, 2013| Posted in: Estate Litigation

We speak with clients everyday who worry that estate trust assets are going to waste or being actively misappropriated.  Some cases involve breach of fiduciary duties, while others may involve fraud or undue influence in the inception.  Though the facts and circumstances vary, the concern is the same: irreparable harm is occurring and time is of the essence. In these situations, an injured party can appeal to the courts and invoke one of the most powerful tools available to the judicial system, the injunction.  An injunction is a court order that prohibits a party from doing some act which injures another party.  Injunctions are a function of the court sitting in equity, meaning they address a harm that cannot be adequately addressed by filing a lawsuit and receiving later damages from the offending party.  For example, if a trustee is actively melting down priceless family heirlooms to sell for scrap […]

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