Keul v. Hodges Blvd. Presbyterian Church

Keul v. Hodges Blvd. Presbyterian Church, 180 So.3d 1074 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015)

This decision deals with whether a POD designation can be invalidated for undue influence , as well as the right of a probate court to require a party to return POD funds to an estate instead of entering a money judgment against the party for the amount of the funds.  

The decedent's 2009 will provided that at her death, her entire estate would go to Hodges Boulevard Presbyterian Church.  A few days before she died, the decedent's neighbor/friend/caregiver/attorney in fact/health care surrogate claimed the decedent asked her to help her get a POD form to change her beneficiary designation to leave all of her assets to the neighbor and her family.  

Following the decedent's death, the church objected to the inventory and sought to remove the neighbor as personal representative, arguing that the neighbor had failed to include the POD account in the inventory.  The trial court ultimately found that the neighbor used her confidential relationship with the decedent and actively procured the POD designation, and as a result it invalidated the POD designation.

The neighbor attempted to argue on appeal that Florida law does not allow a POD designation to be invalidated for undue influence.  The Appellate Court disagreed.  It found that Florida has a legitimate public policy interest in preventing the abuse of confidential relationships.  It noted that even though a POD designation is an inter vivos transfer, it has the attributes of a testamentary transfer since it has no effect until the death of the owner, and thus under Florida law, it is subject to challenge on grounds such as undue influence, fraud, duress, and overreaching.  It disagreed with the neighbor that because the banking statute governing POD designations (F.S. 655.82) does not contain the undue influence provisions found in the probate code, it cannot be challenged for undue influence.

The neighbor also argued that the trial court lacked authority to order her to return the funds to the estate.  The Court held that such an order is clearly proper pursuant to F.S. 733.812.  The fact that failure to comply with a court order can justify a finding of civil contempt which may ultimately lead to incarceration, does not make the remedy unconstitutional.

Comments

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