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Florida Probate Blog

Category: Probate Litigation

Standing in Probate

Written by on May 12, 2009| Posted in: Estate Litigation

Third District Applies General Agency Principals to Issue of Who is Real Party in Interest A quick glance at any court docket these days will reveal that many foreclosure actions are being prosecuted by someone other than the real party in interest. While it is generally acceptable for an authorized agent to bring a lawsuit on behalf of a principal in a civil action, how and to what extent is this rule recognized in the probate arena? Generally, in actions by or against a probate estate, the personal representative of the estate is a necessary and indispensable party. There is a lot of decisional case law in Florida holding that in cases involving claims made by or against an estate, the estate and its survivors are the real parties in interest, and the personal representative is merely a nominal party.

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Stock Splits and Changes in Securities in Probate

Written by on May 8, 2009| Posted in: General

Probate attorneys frequently face issues dealing with the change of character of an asset included in a person’s estate plan. These issue typically occur when a person dies and the specified asset has either changed in character and/or value in terms of quantity and/or quality. People often include their securities in their estate plan. Sometimes, we discover that a gift in a will of a specific number of securities (i.e., 100 shares of ABC stock) carries with it any additional securities acquired by the person after writing his will. This raise the question regarding whether the beneficiary of the specific gift is to receive only the specified number or all of the shares of that named stock. Questions also arise when a person owned securities named in a will but later sold some of those securities after the will was executed and purchased another type of security not specified in […]

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Probate Property in Foreclosure?

Written by on May 8, 2009| Posted in: General

Fourth District provides relief for loan burdened surviving spouses and relatives. The distribution of homestead property in a probate estate is governed by the Probate Code, the Constitution and Florida decisional case law. Even though there is firm statutory, constitutional and judicial precedent dealing with homestead issues, there is always yet another novel issue or unanswered question to which there appears no clear answer. The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals issued an opinion on April 29, 2009 answering the question whether real property that is facing foreclosure during the probate administration process may be distributed to the decedent’s surviving spouse. What is Homestead Property? Homestead property was recognized by the Courts long ago as the place where the owner and his or her family reside, the place where the home or the house is, and adjoining land, where the family dwells. The Florida Probate Code defines homestead property as […]

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What Happens When Mistakes are Made in a Will?

Written by on Apr 29, 2009| Posted in: Probate Litigation

Mistakes happen all the time when people are making their estate planning documents. The law is designed to provide fair remedies and solutions for families and loved ones who are victimized by an honest mistake by the deceased relative. A uniform code for dealing with mistakes in wills is set froth in the Restatement of Property (Third)- Wills and Donative Transfers, which provides: § 12.1 Reforming Donative Documents To Correct Mistakes “A donative document, though unambiguous, may be reformed to conform the text to the donor’s intention if it is established by clear and convincing evidence (1) that a mistake of fact or law, whether in expression or inducement, affected specific terms of the document; and (2) what the donor’s intention was. In determining whether these elements have been established by clear and convincing evidence, direct evidence of intention contradicting the plain meaning of the text as well as other […]

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What Happens When a Person Dies and the Will Cannot Be Found?

Written by on Apr 24, 2009| Posted in: Probate Litigation

The Restatement (Third) Property (Wills and Donative Transfers) §4.1 provides that “if a will cannot be located after death, but the trier of fact finds that it was not revoked, the will is entitled to probate if its due execution and contents can be proved. Commonly in such cases, the will is proved by evidence from a law-office or other copy, or from the drafter’s notes and recollection. If its full contents cannot be proved, the will is entitled to probate to the extent that its contents can be proved.” Similarly, Florida has adopted its own code provisions regarding the practice and procedure for admitting lost or destroyed will to probate. See Florida Probate Rule 5.510. However, there are some jurisdictions that have not adopted a code provision regarding the procedure for use when a will cannot be located after the decedent’s death.

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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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Intestacy and Same Sex Couples: Probate Needs Progressive Help from Legislatures

Written by on Mar 30, 2009| Posted in: Probate Litigation

The laws of intestacy exist in every state and take effect whenever a person dies without a Last Will and Testament or where a Last Will and Testament is judicially voided. The purpose of the intestacy laws, which distribute inherited wealth according to the table of consanguinity (closest biological heirs), is to protect the family of the deceased. The law presumes that the deceased relative intends to distribute his or her wealth to his or her loved ones. Many legal observers have criticized the probate laws of the states, including Florida, for failing to adapt to our changing society and the nuclear family. For many, the intestate system is flawed because it fails to consider the effect upon people who cannot get married: those persons in same sex partnerships.

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Power of Attorney – What happens when the holder says no?

Written by on Mar 16, 2009| Posted in: Probate Litigation

Can an agent’s failure to make gifts create liability for intentional interference with an expectancy?When someone executes a Power of Attorney in favor of another person, usually a trusted relative or friend, its vests enormous power and duties on the agent. With this power and responsibility comes potential liability if the agent acts in a manner that falls short of the law’s expectations. The question of how far that liability stretches is frequently an issue that is fiercely disputed in probate court. A recent opinion from the Georgia Supreme Court explores the issue of whether an agent’s failure to make changes to a last will and testament directed by the principal can constitute the basis of an intentional interference with an expectancy claim. Generally, the law in Florida and most other states that recognize the tort of intentional interference, hold that in order to state a cause of action for […]

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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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