The Fourth District Court of Appeal reproves the Palm Beach probate court’s local policy presuming the need for a restricted depository in all probate cases as a matter of course.
In Estate of Goodstein v. Goodstein, 44 Fla.L.Weekly D222a, on appeal was the trial court’s non-final order granting the beneficiaries’ petition to designate a trust company as a depository for the assets. The personal representative of the estate appealed, arguing that the trial court granted the petition based upon local policy without finding “other cause” required under Fla.Stat. §69.031(1). During the hearing, “[t]he trial court agreed that restricted depositories were a matter of course in all probate cases in its jurisdiction, pursuant to local policy. It explained that the policy was intended to prevent assets from pouring out during probate administration The court believed the policy also reduced expenses and increased productivity by encouraging attorneys to resolve cases more quickly.” Id.
The issue before the appellate court was whether Palm Beach’s blanket policy violated Fla. Stat. §69.031(1), which provides, in pertinent part:
When it is expedient in the judgment of any court having jurisdiction of any estate in process of administration by any guardian, curator, executor, administrator, trustee, receiver, or other officer, because the size of the bond required of the officer is burdensome or for other cause, the court may order part or all of the personal assets of the estate placed with a bank, trust company, or savings and loan association…designated by the court… (emphasis supplied)
The Fourth DCA held that the “clear and unambiguous” language of the statute makes it improper to have a blanket policy requiring restricted depositories in all cases. “Under the statute, there are only two situations in which a court may order a restricted depository to be used: (1) when the size of the bond required of the administrator or other officer is burdensome or (2) “for other cause. Trial courts must look at each case carefully to determine whether it falls under one of these two situations.” Id.
Ultimately, the appellate court approved the trial court’s designation of a restricted depository in Goodstein because there were significant assets and the record evidenced tension between the personal representative and the beneficiaries due, in part, to the personal representative’s alleged failure to timely provide information about estate assets to the beneficiaries; however, the appellate court “admonish[ed] the trial court that it may not have a blanket policy requiring restricted depositories in all cases.”
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