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Florida Probate Blog

Category: Estate Litigation

Indispensible Parties in Trust Lawsuits

Written by on Feb 6, 2009| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Necessary and Indispensable Parties in Trust Lawsuits:  Second District Clarifies Rule in Trust Probate Dispute Who is a Necessary Party? The term “necessary party” has been defined in a variety of ways, but generally most litigators will agree that a “necessary party” is: (1) as a party whose rights and interests are to be affected by a court order; and (2) whose actions with reference to the subject matter of litigation are to be controlled by the court order; or (3) a person without whose joinder as a party an effective court order or judgment cannot be rendered in the plaintiff’s favor; or (4) A person who is materially interested in the subject matter of a suit and who will be directly affected by an adjudication of the controversy. Whatever definition one uses, it is undisputed and well-settled law that if a necessary party hasn’t been named in any kind of […]

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Survivorship Accounts

Written by on Feb 3, 2009| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Does creation of joint accounts with survivorship rights alter the dispositive provisions of a pre-existing last will and testament? The question of whether, and under what circumstances, a joint, Totten, or tentative trust in bank deposits can be revoked, either expressly or impliedly, by a written or oral declaration made by the settlor during his lifetime or by the terms of the settlor’s will is often debated among probate litigators and judges. There are few appellate opinions in Florida providing clear guidance for some scenarios. However, Florida and most other states follow the rule adopted by the Restatement of Trusts 2d §58 comment (c) that a tentative trust is revoked by the depositor’s will, if, by its terms, it indicates explicitly or implicitly that the depositor intended to effect such a revocation. Litsey v. First Federal Sav. & Loan Association 243 So.2d 239 (Fla. DCA 1971) (recognizing rule.)

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What is a Prenuptial Agreement?

Written by on Jan 30, 2009| Posted in: Estate Litigation

First District Upholds Integrity of Contracts in Recent OpinionA prenuptial agreement is a contract entered between partners before marriage, or civil unions in those jurisdictions recognizing those. The contract’s contents typically include provisions for the division of marital assets and spouse support in the event the relationship terminates. Prenuptial agreements usually arise in two very different legal contexts: (1) divorce and (2) probate. In Florida, the rules applying to these two vastly-different courtrooms are exclusive of one another. My experience has been dealing with prenuptial agreements in the probate arena, where the marital relationship has been severed not by divorce, but by the death of one of the spouses.

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De Facto Trustee Doctrine Recognized

Written by on Jan 23, 2009| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Washington joins other states in growing trend The doctrine of de facto trustee is gaining popularity in its recognition by state court’s and trust and estate jurisprudence. A person is a de facto trustee where the person (1) assumed the office of trustee under a color of right or title and (2) exercised the duties of the office. A person assumes the position of trustee under color of right or title where the person asserts “an authority that was derived from an election or appointment, no matter how irregular the election or appointment might be.” A de facto trustee’s good-faith actions are binding on third persons. Because the purported successor trustee in Allen Trust acted as trustee and assumed its office through an appointment it reasonably believed to be effective, it was a de facto trustee and was entitled to compensation for its services. Washington recently joined the growing number […]

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Trust Modification

Written by on Jan 21, 2009| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Extrinsic Evidence Sufficient to Construe Settlor’s Original Intent The new Florida Trust Code recognizes the recent increase in use of long-term trusts, thereby requiring greater flexibility in the restrictive rules that apply concerning when a trust may be terminated or modified other than as provided in the instrument. The governing principal of the trust code is to carry out the settlor’s intent. The power to modify the terms of a trust appears in a variety of sections of the new trust code. For example, a court now has discretion to modify an irrevocable trust because of circumstances not anticipated by the settlor. In exercising its discretion the court is to consider any spendthrift provision but is not precluded from modifying the trust for that reason. Fla.Stat. §736.04113. Also, a court may modify a trust if such action is in the best interest of the beneficiaries. Fla.Stat. §736.04115.

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Pretermitted Children

Written by on Jan 20, 2009| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Evidence Must Be Compelling to Disinherit 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 […]

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Same Sex Couples and Probate

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

How to Overcome the Disparate Impact of Succession Statutes, Inheritance Laws, and the Uniform Probate Code Laymen and probate practitioners may debate issues concerning same sex marriages. However, what is not debatable is that same-gender couples lack true donative freedom under current probate law. Brian Edwards explores the problems facing same sex couples in the enaction and enforcement of their testamentary plans in his recent and well written article, True Donative Freedom: Using Mediation to Resolve the Disparate Impact current Succession Law Has on Committed Same-Gender Loving Couples, 23 OHIO ST.J. ON DISP. RES. 715 (2008). Edwards suggests that mediation can be used to create a plan for same sex couples for enforcement of their donative intentions. He also argues that mediation can be used to solve problems and address other issues that typically arise between the surviving blood relatives and the surviving partner in a committed same sex relationship.

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Paternity: Can a Decedent’s Body Be Exhumed for Genetic Testing?

Written by on Jan 8, 2009| Posted in: Estate Litigation

State’s highest court authorizes opening of decedent’s grave to resolve a claim by an individual to be the decedent’s child. The rights of relatives to the body parts of their deceased family members has been the topic of much legal debate. [See Blog Entry dated September 19, 2008 Wait, Don’t Throw That Away! Do A Decedent’s Next Of Kin Have A Protected Right In The Decedent’s Blood Samples, Tissue, Organs And Other Body Parts That Have Been Removed And Retained By A Coroner For Forensic Examination And Testing?] The extent to which a court has authority over the dead body of the decedent was examined in the recent published opinion by the Maine Supreme Court in In re Estate of Kingsbury, 946 A.2d 389 (2008). Estate of Kingsbury involved the probate of the estate of Bruce H. Kingsbury, who died in 2006, leaving a will nominating his daughter, Robin Whorff, […]

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Mediations and Settlement Agreements

Written by on Jan 6, 2009| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Third District Court of Appeals Opinion Serves as a Reminder to address crucial issues. A candid discussion between counsel regarding settlement and mediation is generally a good idea at some point in any type of litigation, especially will and trust contests and similar probate issues. Since these cases are almost always inter-family case, settlement should be attempted to try to keep the family intact. A good settlement is usually a division of assets that neither side particularly likes, but with which both sides can live. It is generally a good idea to include at least a discussion of these items in any probate settlement agreement: • A mutual release; • Determination of the validity of the will (if it is agreed that the will is invalid, then a prior will must be admitted to probate and the estate fiduciary must be appointed. If the will remains valid, the estate fiduciary […]

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Adopted Adults: Court Applies Statute Preventing Adopted Adults From Receiving Inheritance.

Written by on Dec 11, 2008| Posted in: Estate Litigation

I’m always curious to see how remote the conclusion of a case involving application of a probate rule is to the legislative intent of the rule at the time of it becomes law. One such case recently surfaced in New England where the court’s application of a Rhode Island intestacy statute resulted in what may be considered an unjust and bizarre result. In Fleet Nat’l Bank v. Hunt 944 A.2d 846 (R.I. 2008) the court faced the estate administration of Art Hadley, a self-made entrepreneur and successful New England businessman, who died in 1941; survived by his wife, Frances and his two children, Thomas and Sarah. After Art Hadley’s death, Thomas married Betty, who had two children from prior relationships: Janet Hunt and Lucille Foster. A few years after Frances died, Thomas formally adopted Janet Hunt and Lucille Foster, both of whom were over eighteen years old. In 1993, Thomas […]

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