Monday, September 15, 2014

Brown v. Brown

Brown v. Brown, 39 Fla. L. Weekly D.1949a

In this case, the circuit court relied on the report of a magistrate regarding the ownership of certain joint and pay-on-death ("POD") accounts of a decedent.  The circuit court held that both the joint and POD accounts were includable in the decedent's estate, to be distributed pursuant to the terms of the will. 

The Appellate Court affirmed the order as to the joint accounts, but reversed as to the POD accounts, pointing to the differing statutes governing the ownership of these types of accounts in making its distinction.  The Court held that the magistrate was correct to rely on F.S. 655.79 as to the joint accounts, and upheld the magistrate's holding that F.S. 655.79 creates a presumption that title to a joint deposit account vests in the surviving owners, but that presumption may be overcome with clear and convincing proof of contrary intent.  Since the magistrate found that there was clear and convincing evidence that the decedent intended these accounts to pass pursuant to her will, the joint ownership was overcome and the accounts became assets of the estate.

On the other hand, the Court held that the magistrate was incorrect to rely on F.S. 655.79 when analyzing the POD accounts.  POD accounts are governed by F.S. 655.82.  Unlike the joint accounts, there is no presumption regarding the ownership of these accounts and thus the Court remanded for entry of a revised order on the POD accounts under the correct statute.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Grasso v. Grasso (II)

Grasso v. Grasso143 So.3d 1050 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014), 2014 WL 3613192


Just a short and sweet update on this Friday morning.  An additional decision has come down in the Grasso v. Grasso matter.  The Court reversed a cost/fee order entered by the trial court which taxed costs against cotrustees of a trust individually, where the complaint asserted no claims against the cotrustees in their individual capacities (even though complaint's caption did name them as individuals).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Friscia v. Friscia

Friscia v. Friscia, 161 So.3d 513 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014), 2014 WL 4212689

Again we have a probate case involving the intersection between probate and family law, this time with the added twist of Florida homestead law.  This case involved a determination of whether a decedent's interest in a home was homestead based upon the provisions of the decedent's marital settlement agreement with his first wife.  

The decedent's marital settlement agreement gave his first wife exclusive use and possession of their marital home until their youngest child graduated from high school.  At that time, the decedent and his first wife were required to sell the marital home and split the proceeds.  The decedent died before his youngest son graduated from high school, and thus the probate court held that the decedent owned the home as a tenant in common with his first wife and his interest retained its homestead status, relying on the Third Districts decision in Beltran v. Kalb, 63 So.3d 783 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011)

The personal representative of the decedent's estate first argued that the probate court's reliance on Beltran was incorrect, because Beltran did not involve issues of waiver in the marital settlement agreement.  He argued that the decedent waived homestead in the marital settlement agreement, and based his position on two separate provisions of the agreement: the mutual release provisions and the provisions requiring the eventual sale of the homestead.

The Court rejected the personal representative's argument that this case was distinguishable from Beltran.  In Beltran, the husband and wife owned the marital home as tenants in common at the time of the wife's death, making it necessary to determine the homestead status of each owner.  The Court held that the award of exclusive use and possession of the homestead to the wife did not extinguish the husband's right to homestead protection, since his child, who he still supported financially, still lived on the property.  Thus, because each of the tenants in common retained their homestead interest in the marital home, the homestead exemption precluded the forced sale of the property to satisfy a creditor.  Like in Beltran, here, the husband and wife owned the marital home as tenants in common at the time of the decedent's death.  And also similarly, the award of exclusive use and possession to the wife did not extinguish the decedent's right to homestead protection, since his child, who he still supported financially, also still lived on the property.  Thus, the probate court's reliance on Beltran was proper.

The Court also rejected the personal representative's argument that the provisions of the marital settlement agreement waived homestead protection.  Even though the mutual release provisions in the agreement were broad, and contained language waiving "all rights," the broad waiver only waived homestead rights in the property of the other.  Since the rights at issue here were the decedent's own homestead rights in the property, and not the property of the former wife, the mutual release provisions did not constitute a waiver of the decedent's homestead protection.  The Court similarly found that the decedent's agreement to sell the marital home in the agreement was not inconsistent with the homestead right protecting his interest from forced sale.   As a result, the Court held that neither provision in the marital settlement agreement constituted a waiver of the decedent's homestead protections.

Jaffe v. Jaffe

Jaffe v. Jaffe, 147 So.3d 578 (Fla. 3d DCA 2014), 2014 WL 4212741

This guardianship case dealt with, among other things, the award of attorney's fees and costs in a guardianship proceeding.  The trial court, using the criteria detailed in F.S. 744.108(2)(a)-(i), made a determination of a reasonable hourly attorney's fee and found it appropriate to reduce the attorney's fees to a specified amount, plus costs, which it found reasonable given the circumstances.  It reserved jurisdiction to tax the costs of the attorney's expert witness who testified on the issue of attorney's fees.

The Court found that the attorney had put on competent substantial evidence to justify her attorney's fees.  Not only did she present the testimony of an expert regarding the reasonableness of her fees, but she also presented her own sworn testimony regarding her hours and costs spent on the guardianship matter.  The Court found that the trial court's reduction in attorney's fees was not a result of any determination that the fees sought were unreasonable, and thus it would not defeat F.S. 744.108 to award the attorney fees and costs for her own attorney and expert witness.  Thus, the court properly reserved jurisdiction to determine the amount of the fees and costs incurred in order to determine the reasonableness and necessity of the attorney's fees awarded.