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Florida Probate Blog

Posts Tagged: will contest

Virtual Adoption versus Will Contest

Written by on Sep 4, 2009| Posted in: Estate Litigation

The only situation that I believe would require the virtual adoption case to be determined before the will contest case would be in the context of a pretermitted child where a person omits to provide in his or her last will and testament for a child or adopted child because the child was born or adopted (which presumably would include virtual adoption) after making the last will and testament.

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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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How to Overcome the “Negative Will”

Written by on Apr 13, 2009| Posted in: Probate Litigation

Can disinherited heirs still take inheritance by intestacy?Sometimes a testator leaves a last will that expresses his or her intent to disinherit an heir. These wills are described under the common law, and some states’ statutes, as “negative wills.” Sometimes, the law allows a relative or heir disinherited under the negative will to nevertheless share in property that the testator failed to devised to another and as to which he or she died intestate. See In re Levy’s Estate, 196 So.2d 225 (Fla 3d DCA 1967). The Uniform Probate Code addresses the issue and provides that a decedent through a last will and testament may expressly exclude or limit the right of an individual or class to succeed to property of the decedent passing by intestate succession, and if that individual or a member of that class survives the decedent, the share of the decedent’s intestate estate to which that […]

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Latent vs. Patent Ambiguities in Last Will and Testament Construction Cases

Written by on Apr 7, 2009| Posted in: Probate Litigation

Lawyers and probate courts are frequently asked by relatives of a deceased to consider evidence well beyond the four corners of a last will in determining the “true” donative intent of the testator. However, courts, at least in Florida, are generally bound by the language of a person’s last will and testament unless there is some ambiguity warranting the court’s examination of extrinsic evidence. There are two types of ambiguities in the typical last will and testament construction cases: A last will is “patently ambiguous” if it is ambiguous on its face. Patent ambiguities usually result in the probate courts finding that there is no valid will in effect and no extrinsic evidence is permitted. Some courts have held that where there is a patent ambiguity as to the testator’s intent, the probate court may consider extrinsic evidence. Remember extrinsic is evidence that is not within the document (in this […]

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How Far May the Witness Wander?

Written by on Mar 12, 2009| Posted in: Probate Litigation

Fifth District Court of Appeals Shed’s Light on the meaning of the requirement that witnesses must sign in the testator’s presence. A frequent issue in contests involving the validity of instruments, whether a last will and testament, trust or trust amendment, or even a prenuptial agreement, is whether the instrument was properly executed or signed. Section 733.502 of the Florida Probate Code provides that, among other things, it is essential to the validity of a last will for the witnesses to sign in the testator’s and each other’s presence. An improperly attested, signed or executed last will cannot be admitted to probate.

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No Contest Clauses

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

Alabama, Ohio, and 13 Other States Need to Follow Florida’s Lead Many decedents in a variety of jurisdictions place no contest provisions in their wills in order to prevent their family members from fighting over the inheritance following death. These clauses, sometimes referred to as in terrorem clauses are defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as ‘[a] provision designed to threaten one into action or inaction; esp., a testamentary provision that threatens to dispossess any beneficiary who challenges the terms of the will.’ For example, I have seen the clauses similar to this in many wills in an effort to avoid will contests: “If any beneficiary under this will in any manner, directly or indirectly, contests or challenges this will or any of its provisions, any share or interest in my estate given to that contesting beneficiary under this will is revoked and shall be disposed of in the same manner […]

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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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Estate of Carpenter

Written by on Oct 24, 2008| Posted in: Probate Litigation

In Re:  Estate of Carpenter – the presumption of undue influence in Florida and the Florida Probate Code. I have written at great length of the various factors I assess when determining whether to accept a case for prosecution. I now turn my attention to the Florida decisional case law from the Florida Supreme Court in the seminal case of In re Estate of Carpenter, 253 So.2d 697 (Fla. 1971) its practical application, and the Florida legislature’s response through enactment of section 733.107 of the Florida Probate Code which today supersedes Carpenter. When the validity of a will or trust is challenged based upon the theory of undue influence, the challenger must prove the instrument at issue (will or trust document) resulted from the exercise of undue influence on the mind of the person executing the will or trust instrument. The Carpenter decision from the Florida Supreme Court sets forth […]

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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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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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