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Florida Probate Blog

Category: Probate Litigation

Lack of Capacity – Will Contest Florida

Written by on Mar 24, 2011| Posted in: Probate Litigation

What does it mean to have lack of mental capacity or lack of testamentary capacity? Lack of Mental Capacity or Lack of Testamentary Capacity claims are based on the testator’s lack of mental capacity and are the most common types of testamentary challenges. Testamentary capacity typically requires that a testator has sufficient mental acuity to understand (a) the amount and nature of his or her property, (b) the family members and loved ones who would ordinarily receive such property by Last Will and Testament, and (c) how his or her Last Will and Testament disposes of such property. Simply because an individual has a form of mental illness or disease does not mean that he or she automatically lacks the requisite mental capacity to make a Last Will and Testament. Competency to execute a Last Will and Testament generally means that the Testator understood the nature and extent of his assets […]

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Florida Undue Influence Claim

Written by on Mar 23, 2011| Posted in: Probate Litigation

What is “undue influence?” Undue Influence claims challenge whether the testator made the Last Will and Testament freely and without being coerced by someone. An undue influence lawsuit relates to whether the decedent made his or her Last Will and Testament without being coerced by another person or persons. For example, a family member, friend, long-time employee, or acquaintance might pressure a frail, elderly person to leave most or all of his or her assets to that person while excluding children, relatives and others who should receive the inheritance. Undue influence occurs when a person is compelled to perform an act (signing of a Last Will and Testament) as a result of improper pressure exerted upon him or her.

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Gold Diggers Beware!

Written by on Mar 1, 2011| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Florida enacts legislation allowing challenges to “deathbed marriages.”  It used to be that you could marry someone only moments before death and be vested with all the same rights and benefits as a spouse of 50 years.  Florida wised up to this type of predatory behavior and enacted Florida Statute §732.805, which became effective on October 1, 2010.  The statute allows an interested party to challenge a surviving spouse’s rights by alleging that the marriage was procured by fraud, duress or undue influence.  The burden is on the challenger to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the marriage was procured by fraud, duress, or undue influence.  The cause of action cannot be brought until the death of the person believed to have been coerced into marriage and is only available for four (4) years from date of death.  It will be interesting to revisit this blog after causes of action […]

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Lineal Descendants?

Written by on Jan 12, 2011| Posted in: Probate Litigation

Are step-children considered “lineal descendants” of the decedent? A Florida appellate court recently held that the term “lineal descendants” does NOT include stepchildren.  Timmons v. Ingrahm, 36 So.3d 861 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.2010). In the Timmons case, the decedent’s Will defined the term “children” to include the decedent’s adopted children and the children of his spouse, whom he had never adopted.  The Will went on to create two trusts – a marital trust and a family trust.  The surviving spouse had the right to withdraw principal from the marital trust (subject to some limitations) during her lifetime and upon her death all of the trust property was to be added to the family trust and distributed to the decedent’s children (as defined above).  Unfortunately, the decedent also gave his spouse a limited power of appointment over the family trust allowing her to appoint the trust property to the decedent’s “living lineal descendants.”  Naturally, […]

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Florida Probate Litigation

Written by on Jan 12, 2011| Posted in: Probate Litigation

What is probate litigation?  The word probate is an odd one, coming from the Latin word “probatus” which means “to prove.”  Originally, probate was the process to prove a Last Will and Testament of the decedent.  However, probate courts have expanded their jurisdiction to include guardianship and trust law, too.  So “probate litigation” encompasses guardianship, probate, and trust disputes My firm has handled hundreds of probate litigation cases over the past ten years.  With that experience, we have learned that in a probate litigation case the facts are always the same in a general sense, but have infinite variety as to the particulars. There is always an elderly person, usually alone, and a predatory relative, friend, or caretaker who takes advantage of the loneliness and dependency of old age. Probate litigation (remember that means estate, guardianship, and trust litigation) is a rapidly-developing area of the law in Florida. The large elderly population has created […]

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Florida Slayer Statute

Written by on Jan 11, 2011| Posted in: Probate Litigation

CONVICTED KILLER TO COLLECT A FORTUNE FROM HIS VICTIM An interesting case out of New York is making headlines.  It involves a young man, heroin addict who admitted to killing his mother-in-law after she caught him trying to steal jewelry from her Long Island home.  He subsequently entered a plea agreement for 25 years in jail, avoiding life in prison.  Prior to the victim’s murder, she had prepared a Will bequeathing all of her estate to her only daughter.  The daughter, married to the murderer, was never charged in the crime.  After the man was arrested for the murder in November 2009, he remained in jail during which time his wife, the victim’s daughter, died in February 2010, leaving everything in her Estate to her jailed husband.  The victim’s family is, needless to say, outraged and attempting to set aside the plea bargain made with the murderer unless he agrees to […]

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Illegitimate Child is Still a Legitimate Heir

Written by on Dec 13, 2010| Posted in: General

Q.  Does a child have a right of inheritance from a father who never knew the child existed?  The rub is the child’s mother gave the child up for adoption without the father’s knowledge.  The father’s name is not on the original birth certificate but could be easily verified.  Historically, if a child was illegitimate, most jurisdictions required only the consent of the child’s natural mother to the adoption of the child.  The right to grant or withhold such consent was not extended to the fathers of illegitimate offspring, since they were not considered to have sufficient interest in the benefits and obligations of raising a child to determine whether the child should be released for adoption. In 1979, this trend was reversed in Caban v. Mohammed, 441 U.S. 380, 99 S. Ct. 1760, 60 L. Ed. 2d 297 (1979).  The key issue was whether the consent of an unwed […]

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Battle of Wills

Written by on Dec 6, 2010| Posted in: Estate Litigation

The battle over a Will can be more like a battle of wills. “It’s the principle of the matter” We hear these words consistently from our clients over phone or in the office… “It is not the money; it is the principle of the matter.”  Litigation over an estate, Will, trust or inheritence can be emotionally traumatic for clients, especially when the dispute is between parties who are family members.  Although the majority of our clients want to resolve their issues quickly and inexpensively, many clients are willing to use the judicial process to vindicate what they believe were wrongs suffered at the hands of a family member.  This path is frequently expensive and may cost more than any eventual recovery; however, many litigants are willing to stand on principle – even when a cost-benefit analysis does not make sense financially – to achieve a measure of satisfaction and closure through the judicial process.   

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Show me the money!

Written by on Nov 30, 2010| Posted in: General

My brother is refusing  to give an accounting of the estate assets – Why? A beneficiary of an estate has the right to an accounting of estate assets.  Once an accounting has been requested,  Florida probate law requires that it be produced within a reasonable amount of time.  In fact, the law requires a Personal Representative to file an accounting  with the court and to serve it on all affected beneficiaires (unless it has been waived) when the administration of the estate is complete.  The accounting must be signed by the person preparing it to hold that person responsible for the information contained in the accounting.  Most importantly, a beneficiary has the right to inspect the documents (for example, bank records, receipts and checks) to confirm that the accounting being produced is supported by the evidence.  A probate litigation lawyer should never accept an accounting for her client without the supporting documentation to […]

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Florida Elective Estate

Written by on Nov 15, 2010| Posted in: Estate Litigation

In Florida the surviving spouse has certain basic rights regardless of whether the deceased spouse has executed a valid Will or whether the surviving spouse was excluded from the Last Will and Testament.  Something called an elective share may be taken when surviving spouses are dissatisfied with the share of the estate they are to receive under testate and intestate succession.  Under the elective share concept, the surviving spouse is entitled to take 30% of what constitutes the decedent’s “augmented estate,” with probate and certain non-probate transfers being included.  The elective share is considered to be a substitute for dower and curtesy which was the historic basic rights given to a spouse after death of a husband or wife.  Think of the elective share as the surviving spouse’s right to a forced share in the decedent’s entire estate.  It prevents the decedent from entirely disinheriting the other spouse.  The elective […]

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