Ciungu v. Bulea

Ciungu v. Bulea, 162 So.3d 290 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015), 40 Fla.L.Weekly D.689c


The decedent's here, a husband and wife, died intestate owning property in both Florida and Romania. One of their children filed Petitions for Administration in both estates and was appointed as personal representative.  He filed probate inventories and served them on his sister and no objections were filed.

The trial court entered an order requiring the personal representative to hold his sister's share of the Estate assets in a restricted account until the sister had fulfilled her obligation to ensure legal title to the Romanian properties was properly vested in the persons entitled to receive those properties under Romanian law. The sister filed a motion to vacate that order, asserting that the probate court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the Romanian property.  At the hearing on the Motion to Vacate, the trial court heard several other issues and ultimately made the following decisions: 

(1) The plain meaning of quit claim deeds conveying two parcels of real property to the decedents was given effect, and since the conveying quit claim deeds provided that the personal representative quit claimed the property to his parents with rights of survivorship between them and a life estate to the personal representative, the personal representative should issue deeds conveying the property to himself and his sister as tenants in common with a life estate reserved to him.

(2) The trial court does not have jurisdiction over the estate in Romania, so the order requiring the personal representative to hold his sister's share of the Estate assets in a restricted account until the sister fulfilled her obligation to ensure legal title of the Romanian properties was properly vested in the persons entitled to receive those properties under Romanian law, was vacated.

The Court held that the Motion to Vacate the trial court order under FRCP 1.540 was not untimely because a motion to void an order for lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be filed "within a reasonable time."  It disagreed that the the trial court order was void for lack of jurisdiction, since the probate court had personal jurisdiction over the sister, and thus had the authority to direct her to effect the distribution of the Romanian property, even though the property itself lay outside the probate court's geographic jurisdiction.

The Court saw no error in the inclusion of the parcels of real property on the inventories and found nothing in the Florida Probate Code, Probate Rules or case law precluding the addition of property to the inventory of an open estate.  It also agreed with the trial court's interpretation of the quit claim deeds, since those deeds were unambiguous in that the personal representative was the grantor and conveyed the property to his parents, as grantees, with the right of survivorship between the grantees and reserving unto himself a life estate in the property.  The personal representative attempted to argue that by reserving the life estate he himself became a grantor (and thus subject to the right of survivorship provision) but the court disagreed and held that when the father died, his interest passed to his wife by virtue of the right of survivorship, and when the mother died, her undivided remainder interest passed by intestacy to her children as tenants in common.

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