Articles Posted in Probate Litigation

Many people may have mixed emotions when they receive word about the death of an ex-spouse, but they generally don’t expect to end up embroiled in probate. This can occur, though, when there are loose ends on finances, assets and property. Ideally, Miami probate lawyers know these matters would be cleanly settled years earlier in the divorce agreement, but sometimes, depending on the circumstances, it’s not possible for former spouses to entirely extricate themselves financially when the marriage dissolves. Miami probate lawyers

This was the case before a Florida probate court and later Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals, which was tasked settling issues that arose when a former wife and the estate of her recently-deceased (but long-time divorced) ex-husband disputed financial claims and rights to a residence in which they had both been long-time co-tenants. Both the estate and surviving ex-wife consulted with Miami probate lawyers to help them duke out the details.

Per court records, here’s what happened:

More than four decades ago, when the pair were still married, they purchased a property in Miami-Dade County and resided there together as husband-and-wife. Then, in 1986, the husband moved out of the residence, and the wife continued to live there. The marriage wasn’t legally dissolved until 10 years later, in 1996. The husband never moved back into the home, though he did occasionally come by for mail. But otherwise from that date until husband’s death in January 2010 in the Haitian earthquake, the exes held title as “tenants in common,” each having a 50 percent undivided interest in the property, though wife had exclusive occupancy. (In 2005 the wife’s mother also moved in, becoming a second occupant.) Continue reading

When a person dies and there is more than one will, it can come as a surprise to family. No matter which side you’re on, you will need to discuss your options with a Florida probate lawyer. A careful investigation will be necessary to determine whether a will contest is appropriate. It may be that one of the wills produced has a clear claim, or it may be necessary to initiate probate litigation to assert the validity of one will over another. Fort Lauderdale probate lawyer

Many people understand the importance of updating their will and other estate planning documents when important life events occur, such as when there is a marriage, birth, death or major falling out or formation of new romantic ties. Wills can be updated and recipients of certain assets can be modified. That’s why it’s not unheard of to have two or more versions of the same will. The problem with having numerous wills is that it can ultimately result in the assets of the testator (creator of the will) not being distributed according to his or her desires. A Fort Lauderdale probate lawyer can explain in more detail, but generally, the courts will seize on the most recent version of the will. Ideally, all copies of the previous version of the will would be destroyed and the updated version should distributed to all concerned so there is no confusion. Of course, real life is rarely so tidy, and Florida will contests are fairly common.

These were the facts of the case in a matter before Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal, though the exact issue before the court was whether a plaintiff’s claim should be dismissed for a technical defect. (This is another reason you should have a Fort Lauderdale probate lawyer on board – to ensure you don’t miss any key filing deadlines and that all claims are properly pleaded.) Continue reading

If you’re interested in filing a will contest in Florida, you do not have an unlimited period of time. The statute of limitations on will contests caps the amount of time in which you have to contact a Florida probate attorney and file any disputes as it relates to a will. Florida probate lawyer

This is the case with most legal issues in Florida, though the time at which your clock starts ticking may depend on a number of factors.

Unlike claims for things like personal injury or wrongful death, you have months – not years – in which to raise concerns.  Continue reading

In Florida, a living trust (also known as an inter vivos trust) is one probably your best option if you want your estate to avoid probate after you die. Why does that matter? As our South Florida living trust attorneys can explain, it means more of your assets – the things you worked hard for during your life, the things you want to see preserved and passed on – will not only go straight to the individuals you want to see in receipt, less will go to court fees and the state of Florida.probate lawyer

In general, a trust is an agreement entered into by the person who creates the trust (settlor or grantor or trustmaker) and the beneficiaries of that trust (i.e., those who benefit from it). That contract will determine what happens to the assets contained in the estate when you die. A living trust allows for one not only to make plans for an estate to avoid probate (and save a great deal on legal expenses), as well as allow you to map out a plan for disability, preserve Medicaid benefits and lower estate taxes.

The most common type is called a revocable living trust, and it’s created during one’s lifetime (rather than upon the trustmaker’s death), and can be revoked by the trustmaker at any point, rather than one that is established and cannot be undone. Revocable living trusts are often the preferred way to transfer assets in states like Florida where we know probate is both time-consuming and incredibly costly.  Continue reading

Florida probate law pretty clearly establishes the right of children to inherit a portion (or all) of a parent’s estate when he or she dies without a will (intestate estate). Further, Chapter 732 of Florida Statutes doesn’t make any distinction indicating a child born out-of-wedlock is any less entitled to an inheritance than one born to parents who are married. However, in a case where it is the father who has passed and the child was born out-of-wedlock, paternity must be established in order for that child to receive that inheritance.probate litigation

Generally, there are two ways this happens:

  • A court order, typically following some type of biological testing.
  • A signed acknowledgment by the father while he was alive.

A recent Florida case raised an interesting question that could be applicable to future probate litigation cases involving intestate estate where paternity is disputed. The Florida Supreme Court recently weighed in on the question of whether one can establish paternity when someone else is already presumed so by law. Continue reading

No one would dare question the late Aretha Franklin’s claim to the Queen of Soul title. However, claims to the estate she left behind may be a bit more difficult to establish. That’s because the “Rolling in the Deep” singer died without leaving a will. probate litigation lawyer

Legally, this is referred to as intestate property. In Florida, we has a statutorily established intestate succession procedure, as outlined in Chapter 732 of Florida Statutes. It’s basically a default guideline for how ones property can lawfully be distributed when someone either dies without a will or whose will has been deemed improperly devised. An individual’s right to the estate and in what proportion is specified based on his or her relationship to the decedent, as well as those of other claimant. It’s important to point out that Florida intestacy could be either partial or whole, depending on whether a person’s will is non-existent/ invalid OR whether only some portions were generated/ validated.

There are a lot of scenarios outlined in an effort to make the process as streamlined as possible. However, if you are a claimant in an intestate property case, it’s wise to have a Fort Lauderdale probate attorney who can help you navigate it with more ease and ensure you receive your fair share. Florida probate litigation laws are lengthy and complex and/ or subjective in several areas, so it’s best to have someone advocating for you in proving your claim is best aligned with your loved one’s wishes.  Continue reading

Family inheritance is slated to be a major legal battlefield in the coming years, as it is estimated approximately $30 trillion will be inherited over the course of the next 30 years. Inevitably, that’s going to mean descendants – children and grandchildren – will be squabbling over their fair share by contesting Florida wills.Florida will contest

What Drives a Florida Will Contest?

While there are those who may feel unjustly entitled, another catalyst setting the stage for significant fights over inheritance is the fact that many adult children and grandchildren have not been able to save sufficiently for their own retirement. Some may have been living under the assumption that an inheritance will fund their retirement, while others, thanks to stagnant wages and student loan debt, have simply not been able to scrounge enough together to live beyond paycheck-to-paycheck. Also contributing is the fact that those who were raised between the 1960s and 1990s are increasingly having to take on caretaking responsibilities of dependent parents, which can also sap their financial resources.

Elder adults may wish to help ward off some of these conflicts by having frank discussions with their children and grandchildren about what is available and the plans for distribution. Exact dollar amounts and an itemized breakdown aren’t necessary, but it’s important to make your wishes clear. Continue reading

The Florida court system allows for professional guardians to be appointed for those who are “incapacitated.” As defined by Florida law, a person who is incapacitated is an adult who has been determined by a court to lack the mental capacity to manage at least some of his/ her property or to meet at least some essential health and safety requirements on their own. It’s a process that is outlined in Chapter 44 of Florida StatutesFlorida guardianship attorney

As noted by the Florida Bar, any adult can petition the court to decide the incapacity of another person, establishing their case with factual information. As the case proceeds, the court will appoint a three-member committee (typically two doctors and some other expert, depending on the nature of the case). There is usually some type of examination of physical health and mental health as well as an assessment of one’s ability to function. The person alleged to be incapacitated will have an attorney appointed to represent them during these proceedings (though they are free to hire their own, if they choose). After analysis, the panel will submit their own report of findings to the court.

If two of three panel members conclude the individual isn’t incapacitated at all, the judge has to dismiss the petition. However, if the majority finds the person can’t exercise certain rights on their own, the court will schedule another hearing to determine whether the individual is partially or totally incapacitated. At the end of those proceedings, a guardian will be appointed at another hearing, unless there is some other alternative that is less restrictive.  Continue reading

It is an unfortunate reality that some people have no qualms using undue influence for the purpose of obtaining “gifts” from an individual who is elderly, ill or weak. Our Florida probate attorneys have seen these cases arise most frequently in cases involving nursing home residents, elderly parents or ailing grandparents. Those who allege “undue influence” (which is a specific charge in probate litigation) are usually surviving loved ones doing so with the intention of challenging the validity of a lost loved one’s will, trust or inter vivos transfer (transfer of property made during one’s lifetime).probate litigation

Proving undue influence is not a simple matter or low bar. One has to prove that the victim’s mind was “so controlled or affected by persuasion or pressure, artful or fraudulent contrivances or by the insidious influences of persons in close confidential relations” that he or she isn’t knowingly or voluntarily acting of their own accord, but instead carrying out the will of someone else. This was outlined in the precedential 1925 Florida Supreme Court case of Peacock v. Dubois.

In most cases, it is the plaintiff asserting undue influence who typically has the burden of poof. Prior to 1971, the burden of proof in these cases was reached with enough evidence to raise the undue influence presumption, at which point the proof burden shifted to the defendant, who then had to prove it didn’t occur. Then there was the key Florida Supreme Court case of Carpenter v. Carpenter, justices ruled that even the establishment of an undue influence presumption didn’t shift the proof burden to the defendant, at least as it pertained to will contests. About a decade later, the court decided the same rule in cases alleging inter vivos transfers. Continue reading

In an ideal world, our loved one will have written a valid last will and testament, and when he or she dies, the family will know where that will is and also know who was selected to executor of the estate.  The person chosen to be the executor (sometimes called an executrix if that person is a woman, or an estate administrator, or personal representative depending upon the state in which the will was drafted) will go the probate court and open an estate.

Broward Probate Lawyer The executor of the estate will inventory the estate and make an accounting of all debts and assets and provide notice to anyone who is listed in the will as a beneficiary, and also issue notice to all creditors who may still be owed money by the decedent at the time of his or her death. In many cases, the debt will be written off when the person’s whose name it was died, but in some cases, a creditor will still have a right to file a claim with the estate and collect money from the estate. Continue reading

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