Florida Probate Litigation Statute of Limitations May Not Be Settled

When it comes to the Florida probate litigation statute of limitations, one might generally presume reading F.S. Ch. 95 that they have about four years to file a case. However, as our Fort Lauderdale probate litigation attorneys can explain, trust cases in particular almost always follow something called equitable law.undue influence probate litigation

Equitable strives for equal, but in the case of some breach of trust cases, our Fort Lauderdale probate litigation attorneys have seen this mean as little as 6 months… Or it could mean you have as many as 40 years.

In the case of undue influence, however (which is the most common grounds for a Florida will contest), your limitations period again is usually four years. At most, however, it can be up to 12 years. This is thanks to something called the “delayed discovery doctrine.”

Delayed Discovery Doctrine in Florida Probate Litigation

If a person’s knowledge of a wrongdoing (or the point at which one reasonably could have known about it) occurs after the statute of limitations has run out, F.S. 95.031(2)(a) holds that a cause of action (in this example, grounds for a Florida probate litigation lawsuit) could be delayed beyond the four-year statute of limitations that might normally be the deadline in an undue influence case.

Delayed discovery typically must be proven by showing that there was some type of fraud or concealment that prevented the person from knowing about the undue influence – or even possibly discovering it. Nonetheless in no case can you bring a case for undue influence by asserting fraud past 12 years from the alleged commission of that fraud – even if it couldn’t have been discovered before that.

The delayed discovery doctrine is applied usually only as the exception to the rule. For the most part, this statute refers only to claims of product liability. However, there was a case of alleged undue before Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal two years ago that asked whether one might apply the delayed discovery doctrine.

Delayed Discovery and Florida Undue Influence Lawsuit

In the 2017 case, the issue involved a philanthropic irrevocable trust. As a Fort Lauderdale undue influence probate attorney can explain, a revocable trust can’t be litigated until it becomes irrevocable. This usually happens when the settlor dies. In this case, however, the trust in question was always an irrevocable trust, meaning it was subject to challenge from the day of its inception, which would have been in 2005.

However, it wasn’t until 10 years after its inception, after the wife’s 2015 death, that the pair’s daughter sought to challenge the validity of that trust (which named the couple’s long-time doctor and attorney/accountant as trustees).

Most everyone involved agreed that the statute of limitations that applied was four years.

BUT… That is absent the assertion of the delayed discovery doctrine, which is what claimant alleged. This would have extended the filing deadline on the undue influence claim from four years (time-barring the claim as of 2009) to 12 years (through 2017). But as noted in Florida statute, this 12-year statute of limitations would only apply in the case of fraud.The trial court judge ruled undue influence cases are not founded upon fraud. However, this ruling was reversed by the 2nd District Court of Appeals.

In its reversal, the appellate panel sided with plaintiff in finding that undue influence is a type of fraud. The trustees in the case argue that fraud and undue influence have distinct elements and are not the same (and thus not subject to the delayed discovery doctrine). Justices found that while undue influence and fraud are indeed separate and distinct causes of action, but that undue influence basically asserts a type of fraud, assuming the facts of the case meet the elements necessary to prove fraud.

That didn’t mean plaintiff won her case, however. (In fact, she later lost.) But it did firmly establish that claims of undue influence asserting fraud can be subject to the longer 12-year statute of limitations.

Call Fort Lauderdale Probate Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

Flanzer v. Kaplan, Nov. 29, 2017, Florida Second District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

Florida Probate Dispute: Prenuptial Agreement Enforcement After Spouse Dies, Dec. 15, 2019, Fort Lauderdale Undue Influence Probate Litigation Attorney Blog

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