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Florida Probate Blog

Posts Tagged: Probate Litigation

Testamentary Capacity: Do We Need Legal Reform?

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

Previous blog posts have discussed the fundamentals of will contests in Florida. These actions occur when a will is offered for probate (See Post dated October 28, 2008 What is the Definition of Probate) which is always after the testator has died. One of the most common grounds for a person seeking to invalidate a will offered for probate is that the will was executed at a time when the testator (the person signing the will) lacked testamentary capacity. The legal standard for testamentary capacity is that the testator knew the nature and extent of his or her property, the natural objects of his or her bounty (property) and the contents of his or her estate plan. See, In re Estate of Tolin, 622 So.2d 988, 990 (Fla. 1993). Since the person signing the will isn’t alive to testify or be examined in order to determine testamentary capacity, the court […]

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Settlement Agreements and Mediation in Probate

Written by on Nov 5, 2008| Posted in: Probate Litigation

Third District Court of Appeals Upholds Terms of Settlement Agreement Between BeneficiariesThe sanctity of the signed settlement agreement was confirmed on October 29, 2008 when the Third District issued its opinion in Charles Brindle v. Richard W. Brindle, –So.2d–, 2008 WL 4722746; 33 Fla.L.Weekly D2528a (Fla.4th DCA October 29, 2008). Brindle originated in the form of two competing orders from the civil and probate benches in Monroe County. The first order adopted and approved a written settlement agreement by which the sons of the decedent, Dorothy Brindle, resolved a will contest among themselves and agreed to a global reallocation and distribution of all of their inheritance given to them under Dorothy’s will. Fast forward two years, when the Personal Representative of Dorothy’s estate (who also signed the settlement agreement) discovered during the course of asset distribution that there were insufficient assets in the estate to pay the expenses. Monroe County […]

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Undue Influence: Lawyers Who Name Themselves or Family Members as Beneficiaries of Wills

Written by on Oct 21, 2008| Posted in: Probate Litigation

All too often I am asked to investigate and ultimately prosecute will contests which involve attorneys playing an active role, not only in the procurement of the will, but in having themselves or their relatives named as beneficiaries under the will. The Florida Supreme Court has adopted a portion of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Responsibility, and in particular, the prohibition against lawyers playing a role in the drafting and execution of a will or trust where they are named as a beneficiary. Rule 4-1.8. Conflict of Interest; Prohibited and Other Transactions (c) Gifts to Lawyer or Lawyer’s Family. A lawyer shall not solicit any substantial gift from a client, including a testamentary gift, or prepare on behalf of a client an instrument giving the lawyer or a person related to the lawyer any substantial gift unless the lawyer or other recipient of the gift is related […]

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Revocation of Will

Written by on Oct 15, 2008| Posted in: Probate Litigation

A Look at the Requirements of Will Revocation by Physical Act Flush It Down the Toilet! The Law Florida is one of several states that have a strict requirement for revocation of a person’s Will. Florida law allows a person to revoke their will by either written instructions, or by physical act. For revocation by writing, the document must be a subsequent Will, codicil, or other writing executed with the same formalities required for the original Will (signed at the end and witnessed.) See Fla.Stat. §732.505. Florida Statutes section 732.506 sets forth the requirements for revocation by act: “A will or codicil is revoked by the testator, or some other person in the testator’s presence and at the testator’s direction, by burning, tearing, canceling, defacing, obliterating, or destroying it with the intent, and for the purpose of revocation.”

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Do I Have a Case? The Presumption of Undue Influence?

Written by on Oct 14, 2008| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Do I Have a Case? (Part Four) As I have indicated in prior posts, there are certain categories of evidence that I look for in order to prove undue influence, which has been defined by Florida courts as conduct amounting to overpersuasion, duress, force, coercion, or artful or fraudulent contrivances to such a degree that the free agency and will power of the testator is destroyed. In re Carpenter’s Estate, 253 So. 2d 697 (Fla. 1971). In Florida, the legislature has created a presumption of undue influence.  What does this mean?

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What Evidence Points to the Conclusion of Undue Influence?

Written by on Oct 2, 2008| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Do I have a Case? (Part Two) As I have indicated in prior posts, there are certain categories of evidence that I look for in order to prove undue influence and then the case develops and follows the facts that are discovered. Undue influence has been defined by Florida courts as conduct amounting to over-persuasion, duress, force, coercion, or artful or fraudulent contrivances to such a degree that the free agency and will power of the testator is destroyed. In re Carpenter’s Estate, 253 So. 2d 697 (Fla. 1971).

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Will Contest Florida: Evidence of Dementia?

Written by on Sep 25, 2008| Posted in: Probate Litigation

WILL CONTEST FLORIDA Proving Incapacity: How Can You Determine Whether Dementia Played a Role in the Will Change? Tested Methods for a Challenging Evidentiary Task In an earlier blog, I reminded readers that Florida is home to the nation’s largest geriatric population, many of whom are vulnerable to exploitation due to the infirmities of age and diminished mental capacity. A recent study discovered that the prevalence of dementia is estimated to double every five years in the elderly, growing from a disorder that affects 1 percent of persons 60 years old to a condition afflicting approximately 30 percent to 45 percent of persons 85 years old. It Just Doesn’t Make Any Sense Many times I am asked to represent persons who don’t live in Florida and don’t see their elderly Florida relatives on a daily basis. During their visits to Florida they notice a change in their elderly relative’s behavior, […]

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Florida Uniform Trust Code

Written by on Sep 24, 2008| Posted in: Trust Litigation

FLORIDA UNIFORM TRUST CODE Is it Time for Trusts to Take a Trip to the Repair Shop?  Florida Court Gives Liberal Application of New Trust Code Provision Allowing for Repair of Mistakes in Trust Language Upon Application of an Interested Person. The Florida Legislature’s adoption of the Uniform Trust Code fostered a welcome change to the way mistakes in trust documents are now treated. Formerly, beneficiaries were shackled by mistakes made by their relative in drafting provisions of their trust documents, sometimes neglecting gift or similar provisions when there was clear evidence that the relative intended to give someone an inheritance. The Reformation Now, the new trust code under section 736.0415, an interested person may ask the Court through probate litigation, to reform the terms of a trust to conform to the settlor’s intentions if it is proved by clear and convincing evidence that both the accomplishment of the settlor’s […]

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Will Execution Florida

Written by on Sep 23, 2008| Posted in: Probate Litigation

WILL EXECUTION FLORIDA Tale of the Tape: Should a Lawyer Videotape the Execution of a Will? I am frequently asked by probate administration attorneys whether they should make a video recording of a will execution in cases where they anticipate there will be probate litigation involving a will contest after the testator’s death. While video recording generally is considered relevant evidence in a trial involving allegations of undue influence and testamentary capacity, I have experience mixed results from the use of these recordings. This is due primarily to the elementary psychological precept that different people perceive the same stimuli and arrive at quite different conclusions. Nevertheless, there are a few fundamental rules to keep in mind when a probate administration attorney decides or is asked to video record a will execution for potential use in a later probate litigation trial. Discretion Remember that the ultimate decision of whether the video […]

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