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Bitezakis v. Bitezakis

Bitezakis v. Bitezakis, 264 So.3d 297 (Fla. 2d DCA 2019)
While it seems easy enough to execute a will, this case reminds us that a client's attempt to do so at home without the guidance of a lawyer may have serious unintended consequences if the will is not executed in strict compliance with the signature requirements of F.S. 732.502.
Here, the decedent and two friends were in his home when first, two witnesses signed a purported will of the decedent, and subsequently, the decedent began to sign the will but stopped after signing just his first name after his wife instructed him to stop because a notary was not present. The next day, she took the decedent to a notary, where he mistakenly executed an affidavit of subscribing witness in the presence of a notary. The trial court found that because it was the testator's intent that the document be his will, the will should be admitted to probate.
The Court reversed and found that because the will failed to conform to the requirements…

Rizk v. Rizk

Rizk v. Rizk, 260 So.3d 467 (Fla. 3d DCA 2018)
This decision centers around the ability of a beneficiary to challenge a will executed in another country even if they did not contest that will in the country where it was executed. Here, the will was purportedly executed in Haiti in accordance with Haitian law. The beneficiary tried to challenge the will in Florida, alleging that the decedent was not actually in Haiti on the day the will was purportedly signed, and that the witnesses did not sign the will on that date. 
F.S. 732.502(2) provides that a nonresident's will will be treated as valid in Florida if the will is valid under the laws of the state or country where the will was executed. Because the beneficiary had not challenged the will's validity in Haiti and was receiving benefits from that will, the Court upheld the trial court's determination that the 2013 will was valid in Haiti.

Lee v. Lee

Lee v. Lee, 263 So.3d 826 (Fla. 3d DCA 2019)
This decision deals with the validity of a disclaimer executed by one of the decedent's daughters. Specifically, the Court considered whether the disclaimer was valid because it did not contain a legal description of the real property being disclaimed. 
Disclaimers are governed by Chapter 739, the Florida Uniform Disclaimer of Property Interests Acts. A valid disclaimer must (1) be in writing, (2) declare that the writing is a disclaimer, (3) describe the interest or power disclaimed, (4) be signed by the person making the disclaimer, (5) be witnessed and acknowledged in the manner provided for by deeds of real estate and (6) be delivered in the manner provided by the statute. F.S. 739.104. 
The statute provides additional requirements if the disclaimer is to be recorded, to provide constructive notice to those conducting a title search regarding real property being disclaimed. It states that a disclaimer "relating to real estate does…

Goodstein v. Goodstein

Goodstein v. Goodstein,  263 So.3d 78 (Fla. 4th DCA 2019)

I started this blog in 2013, and this is the first time I have the opportunity to write about a case that I am actually involved in. This case involves a long-running dispute between the father of the decedent, the personal representative of the estate, and the decedent's children, the beneficiaries of the estate (the personal representative's grandchildren). The personal representative appealed a decision by the trial court which required all estate assets to be placed in a restricted depository.
Restricted depositories have been common-place in Miami-Dade County for quite some time. Recently, South Palm Beach County has instituted as similar requirement. As a matter of course, all estates opened since the introduction of this policy have been required to place all assets in a restricted depository and assets may only be withdrawn with a court order.
Here, the beneficiaries had concerns about their actions as personal …

Maldonado v. Buchsbaum

Maldonado v. Buchsbaum, --- So.3d --- (Fla. 4th DCA 2018)
In certain situations, it is possible to get a temporary injunction without notice, but a court should not do so without strictly complying with the rules governing injunctions. In this case, the surviving spouse sought a temporary injunction against the decedent's aide who had allegedly fostered a relationship with the decedent and alienated him from his spouse during life. Following his death, the wife sought to enjoin the aide from taking possession of estate assets, destroying financial documents or representing to others that she was the sole beneficiary of the estate or representative of the decedent. 
The trial court issued the temporary injunction without notice to the aide based on spouse's argument that notice of the proceedings prior to the issuance of the injunction would afford the aide the opportunity to transfer assets out of the country. The Court found that the injunction was appropriate but that the tria…

Senopoulos v. Senopoulos

Senopoulos v. Senopoulos, 253 So.3d 1228 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018)
A probate court has the inherent authority to evaluate a person's fitness to serve as personal representative. However, in order to appoint a personal representative based on something other than that personal representative's entitlement under the statute, the trial court has to actually make a finding about the person's fitness to serve.  
Here, the decedent and his spouse were married just four days before the decedent died. The decedent's father sought to be appointed as personal representative of the estate, alleging foul-play by the surviving spouse in the death of his son. The wife objected and asserted her right to serve as the surviving spouse. The court ultimately entered an order appointing the father, stating that the father was "entitled to" appointment as the "nearest heir of the Decedent willing to serve as personal representative."
The Court reversed the order appointing the f…

Gordon v. Fishman

Gordon v. Fishman, 253 So.3d 1218 (Fla. 2d DCA 2018)
Under current Florida law, the provisions of a decedent's will that impact the former spouse of that person become void upon divorce. But what happens when the decedent's will is prepared before the marriage (which ultimately ended in divorce)?  Here, the Court found that the language of F.S. 732.507(2) unambiguously requires that the person be married at the time of executing the will. Thus, a will executed before the marriage, leaving assets to the decedent's then-fiance, who he subsequently married and then divorced, are not subject to F.S. 732.507(2). 
F.S. 732.507(2) reads as follows:
Any provision of a will executed by a married person that affects the spouse of that person shall become void upon the divorce of that person or upon the dissolution or annulment of the marriage. After the dissolution, divorce, or annulment, the will shall be administered and construed as if the former spouse had died at the time of the d…