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Florida Probate Blog

Category: Estate Litigation

Lawyer-Client Privilege Does Not Apply to Estate Planning Attorney’s Files in challenge to a Decedent’s Estate Planning Documents

Written by on Mar 28, 2019| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Lawyer-Client Privilege Does Not Apply to Estate Planning Attorney’s Files in challenge to a Decedent’s Estate Planning Documents In general, an attorney’s file is protected by the evidentiary lawyer-client privilege; however, in the contest of estate litigation – will contests and trust contests – an estate planning lawyer’s file is not protected by the privilege and is subject to being produced in litigation discovery. Vasallo v. Bean, 208 So.3d 188 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016) Plaintiffs in probate and trust litigation cases are frequently forced to spend considerable time and money compelling the decedent’s estate planning attorney to produce his or her file and to answer questions at depositions.  Sometimes the objections and motions for protective order come from the defendant.  This is common when the defendant, who is the alleged undue influencer, is also the decedent’s personal representative and attempts to assert the decedent’s lawyer-client privilege to conceal his or […]

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Florida Will Execution: Strict Compliance with Statute Required

Written by on Mar 26, 2019| Posted in: Estate Litigation

A Florida will execution must follow certain formalities as set forth in the Florida Probate Code.   Bitetzakis v. Bitetzakis, — So.3d —-, 2019 WL 405568, 44 Fla. L. Weekly D343. George Bitetzakis died in January 2017.  His grandson was appointed personal representative and petitioned to admit George’s September 2013 Last Will & Testament to probate.  George’s daughter, Alice, objected to the Will alleging it had not been executed in compliance with the statutory formalities set forth in Florida Statute §732.502.  Specifically, Alice alleged that George had not signed the Will within the meaning of the statute. The trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing, during which the following was established through testimony: George, his wife, his friend and his pastor met each week in George’s kitchen for breakfast.  (Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but the punchline in this case is nothing to laugh at.)  On September 26, 2013, George […]

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Will Devising Property to Fiancee Survives Subsequent Marriage and Divorce

Written by on Sep 27, 2018| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Ex-wife 1 – Incapacitated Father 0: An Unreasonable Conclusion Based on Statutory Construction Gordon v. Fishman, 253 So.3d 1218 (Fla. 2d DCA 2018) In 2005, Ron Priever executed a will devising property to his then fiancée, Silvia Gordon.  Priever and Gordon married in 2007 and divorced in 2013.  Mr. Priever died in 2015, leaving no spouse and no children and never having changed his will; however, Priever was survived by his incapacitated father, Bernard, who was the ward of a guardianship.  Bernard’s guardian petitioned for administration, treating the estate as if Priever died without a will, which would leave Bernard the intestate beneficiary.  The court granted the petition and appointed the guardian as personal representative.  Thereafter, Gordon filed Priever’s original will with the court claiming that she was the beneficiary under the terms of Priever’s will executed before their marriage and divorce.  The guardian objected, claiming that once Priever and Gordon divorced […]

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Decidedly Inconvenient: Joint Accounts and POD Accounts

Written by on May 13, 2016| Posted in: Estate Litigation

“But Mom only added my brother so he could pay estate expenses and then the money was supposed to be divided equally amongst all of the children like the Last Will & Testament says!” Almost every day, a prospective client calls to say that a sibling was added to Mom’s bank account, either as a joint tenant or as the pay-on-death beneficiary, solely for “convenience” purposes so he or she could pay estate expenses and that it was Mom’s intention that the remaining funds be distributed equally to all of her children.  Naturally, the sibling who was added to the account does not share this view (which is the reason for the phone call).  Invariably, the sibling who was added is the one who lives closest to Mom so it is simple for him to rationalize and justify keeping all of the money – even when that is not what Mom wanted –  because “I was the one helping out.”  In this way, […]

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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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