Winslow v. Deck

Winslow v. Deck, --- Fla.2d DCA --- (Fla. 4th DCA 2017)

This decision centers on technical pleading requirements and a trial court's unwillingness to allow a party to amend their pleading to comply with those rules.  Specifically, this decision deals with the dismissal of a counterpetition for administration as untimely pursuant to F.S. 733.212(8), which gives interested persons 3 months to contest the validity of a will, among other things.  The Court reversed the trial court's dismissal.

The decedent in this case left two competing wills- one leaving his assets to his two children, the other leaving his assets to his friend.  His daughter petitioned to have the first will admitted to probate and was appointed as personal representative.  Later, the friend filed the second will, with an emergency petition to revoke the daughter's letters of administration, a counterpetition for administration, an objection to the daughter's petition for appointment as personal representative, and a declaration that the proceeding was adversary.  Notably, she failed to file any pleading asking that the first will be revoked.  The court upheld the letters of administration issued under the first will.

A year later, the daughter moved to dismiss the friend's counterpetition with prejudice, arguing that the friend lacked standing to contest the first will.  She stated that after receiving notice that the decedent's estate would be administered according to the first will, she had three months to object to the probate of the first will, and despite her numerous pleadings, she failed to do so.  The court agreed, dismissing the counterpetition with prejudice.

The Court reversed, finding that trial courts should not prevent a petitioner from challenging a will because of a technical defect in the petitioner's pleading without allowing for a reasonable opportunity to amend.  It noted that while the friend's pleadings were not models of clarity, they were sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss, because it was clear from the allegations contained in those filings that she sought to revoke the probate of the first will and admit the second will. 

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