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Florida Probate Blog

Category: Estate Litigation

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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Assessing Testamentary Capacity

Written by on Dec 10, 2008| Posted in: Estate Litigation

A Call For Help from the Probate Bar to the Psychology Clinicians The dramatic increase of cases challenging the validity of wills based on the deficient mental capacity of the person making the will has been measured, verified, and commented on by many legal observers. The reason for the increase in probate litigation is subject to debate; however, I have found in my discussions with other trust and estate practitioners that most will agree the relevant factors causing the increase include the rapidly growing number of older persons with medical and psychiatric problems affecting their mental and cognitive ability; the tremendous transfer of wealth taking place between the World War II and baby boomer generations and the change in the traditional nuclear family. See Daniel Marson and Laurie Zebley, The Other Side of the Retirement Years: Cognitive Decline, Dementia, and Loss of Financial Capacity, 41 Ret.Plan. 30 (2001); Harold T. […]

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Florida’s Slayer Statute

Written by on Nov 26, 2008| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Why The Slayer Rule May Prevent the Slayer’s Estate From Benefiting From the Slayer’s Act By Adrian P. Thomas Nullus Commodum capere potest de injuria sua propria (No man can take advantage of his own wrong) Some readers may be familiar with one of my cases that has been in the headlines recently.  When appropriate, the Florida Slayer Rule can be applied to prevent an injustice and to preclude a killer from benefiting from the crime. Florida, like many other states, has adopted the Uniform Probate Code’s version of the Slayer Rule. See Fla.Stat. §732.802. Unif. Probate Code 2-803 (amended 1993), 8 U.L.A. 211, 211-12. The relevant part of the statute reads:

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Prenuptial Agreements and Probate

Written by on Nov 19, 2008| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Fifth District Rules Plain Language Govern Interpretation of Ante-Nuptial Agreement What is a Prenuptial Agreement? A Premarital or prenuptial or antenuptial agreement means an agreement between prospective spouses made in contemplation of marriage and to be effective upon marriage. The agreement typically speaks to issues relating to property and can involve virtually any interest or rights in any present or future real or personal property rights. Prenuptial agreements can also allocate rights and risks to the parties’ income and earnings, both active and passive.

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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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Amazing Grace: Religion and Undue Influence

Written by on Oct 17, 2008| Posted in: Estate Litigation

It is no secret that many priests, clergyman, and spiritual advisors, share a deep, committed and trusting relationship with their followers and church congregation. The degree and extent of this trust grows with time, and recent cases I have handled in Florida lead me to conclude that the elderly often share a very special relationship with their spiritual advisors and others who the elderly person views as in a position of religious authority or spiritual leadership. Because the nature of this relationship often equates with what the law defines as a confidential relationship, some legal commentators have recently suggested that the law creates a per se rule raising the presumption of undue influence when an eleventh hour will is executed and religious leaders are active in its procurement, or involved in the will’s preparation and are named as beneficiaries. As Professor Jeffrey G. Sherman recently stated: “The best solution to […]

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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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