A South Florida attorney has filed three lawsuits in Palm Beach County against his siblings – one trust, one probate and one tort – and another in Broward Circuit Court – alleging his siblings committed fraud in influencing their elderly mother to alter her previous estate plan and give them millions of dollars in gifts over the course of her life. In addition to his siblings, he named a brokerage firm (which had frozen all accounts from the estate), as it held accounts for both the family-owned real estate companies and his siblings.
The siblings’ father reportedly left behind a real estate of fortune of more than $100 million. By coercing their mother, plaintiff alleges, the siblings engaged in something called undue influence.
Undue influence happens when someone close to the person who has or is making a will manipulates or pressures that person to alter that will in some legally significant way. We see a lot of examples of undue influence in cases against caretakers, close family members, nurses, agents – even attorneys. These cases often are tough to build because we must show whether the alterations or transfers were consistent with the person’s previous statements of intent (verbal or written). The court will want to see whether the person who wrote the will (the testator) truly intended to make those chances that unfairly impacted the plaintiff. It would be their right to do so, and it’s still important to note that even if there is some evidence showing the person was susceptible to undue influence, we still need to show the actions were not the true intention or free will of the testator.
As noted in F.S. 733.107, the burden of proof here is on the plaintiff.
In the case of the South Florida attorney, he says he’s not seeking the entire contents of the estate, only what he considers his fair share, particularly after he asserts it was him who assisted his father for decades in developing his real estate empire. He had office buildings, multi-tenant holdings and commercial shopping centers, and the son said he regularly advised his father on these issues. But when his father died 14 years ago, his entire fortune went to his surviving half sister and the estate of deceased half-brother.
Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal decided on the issue of the frozen brokerage account funds in plaintiff’s favor. However, there are still many other issues that have yet to be settled.
Plaintiff, now 75, is retired, but says for years, he used his professional skills to assist his father, a physician who later retired to Florida and dove into real estate.
His siblings, however, say this probate litigation action is born of greed. They say he never “helped build” the real estate business their father grew. They say plaintiff has already received millions of dollars – both before and after their mother’s death. However, they say, he didn’t like the number of millions he got.
Many cases like this are litigated strictly on the basis of circumstantial evidence, generally because the most important witness – the testator – is deceased. Additionally, conduct that’s deceptive typically doesn’t take place in the open.
If you are concerned that you/ loved one were victimized by undue influence, we can help.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
‘A Lot of Fighting’: Retired Attorney Battles Siblings for $100 Million Fortune, April 13, 2018, By Samantha Joseph, Daily Business Review
More Blog Entries:
Does Florida Probate Court Require Families to Pay Decedent’s Debts? March 28, 2018, Fort Lauderdale Probate Litigation Lawyer Blog