Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Simmons v. Estate of Baranowitz

Simmons v. Estate of Baranowitz, --- So.3d --- (Fla. 4th DCA 2015), 2015 WL 2089071

This case dealt with whether a court could order disgorgement of excessive fees from a personal representative's counsel individually, where the personal representative's counsel was not served by with formal notice. 

The Court relied on its holding in Kozinski v. Stabenow (summary here), where the court found that "the remedy of 'surcharge'...constituted an adversary proceeding requiring service by formal notice under the Florida Probate Rules in order for the probate court to have personal jurisdiction over her individually...."

F.S. 733.6175 gives the court authority to review compensation paid to a personal representative's employee, and if it finds that excessive compensation was paid, to order that employee to make appropriate refunds.  But there is a distinction between the court's authority to act and the way the court notifies the employee that action may be taken.  To take action against an employee, service by formal notice is required.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Megiel-Rollo v. Megiel

Megiel-Rollo v. Megiel, 162 So.3d 1088 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015)

This case involved a dispute about whether a trust was subject to reformation under F.S. 736.0415.  The decedent died leaving behind three children.  Her will left the residue of her estate in equal shares to all three of her children.  Several years after executing the will, the decedent executed a revocable trust, and she transferred her home into that trust.  The trust provided that it was to terminate upon the death of the decedent, and the property should be distributed to the beneficiaries in accordance with their respective interests as set forth on an attached Schedule of Beneficiaries.  The only problem: the draftsman of the trust forgot to prepare the Schedule of Beneficiaries.

One of the daughters filed a complaint against her siblings, arguing that the trust was void for lack of beneficiaries, and, therefore, the residence passed to the three siblings pursuant to the terms of the will. Another daughter counterclaimed seeking a judicial reformation of the trust, arguing that the mother had instructed her attorney to name two of the three siblings as the beneficiaries of the trust.

The Court held that the trust did not fail for lack of beneficiaries, since the mother was undoubtedly the beneficiary of the trust during her lifetime.  It further held that the possibility of merger (should the trust fail for lack of remainder beneficiaries) does not mean that reformation of the trust to supply the missing names of the remainder beneficiaries is unavailable. 

The Court made several findings about reformation generally and F.S. 736.0415 specifically.  In its discussion about the reformation of the trust, the Court held that pre-Florida Trust Code case law does not limit reformation to the correction of simple scrivenor's errors or administrative matters.  It also held that F.S. 736.0415, which provides that reformation of the terms of a trust is available "if it is proved by clear and convincing evidence that both the accomplishment of the settlor's intent and the terms of the trust were affected by a mistake of fact or law, whether in expression or inducement"  does not limit correctable mistakes to simple scrivenor's errors.  Since 736.0415 is a remedial statute, it should be liberally construed.  Where like here, there was evidence of the settlor's intent for two of her three children to be the beneficiaries of the trust after her death, and the draftsman's failure to draft the schedule was what thwarted that intent, reformation is available.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Pitcher v. Waldo

Pitcher v. Waldo, --- So.3d ---, 2015 WL 1334341

This case involved a dispute between the parents of a deceased child over a jury award to the survivors in a wrongful death suit.  The jury awarded the mother $1,000,000 and the father $100,000, and the father claimed that since the mother and the father had an agreement to split the award 60/40, he was entitled to relief pursuant to F.S. 733.815, which allows interested persons to agree to alter their shares of property from an estate.  The Court held that since the survivor's claims are for the survivor's sole benefit, they do not become part of the estate, and thus the probate court had no jurisdiction to adjudicate the dispute.