Fiel v. Hoffman

Fiel v. Hoffman, 169 So.3d 1274 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015), 2015 WL 4549604

This case involved the effect of the Slayer Statute and undue influence on a murdered decedent's will.  The decedent was murdered by his wife, who also murdered the decedent's mother, to ensure that she and her family would receive the decedent's estate on his death.  The decedent's will provided that if the decedent's mother did not survive him, his estate would go to his wife.  If neither the mother or wife survived him, his estate would go to his wife's daughter by another marriage and her children.

The trial court held that the wife was not entitled to participate in the estate based on F.S. 732.802 (the "Slayer Statute"), and that the statute required the court to treat her as having predeceased her husband, leaving her daughter and her daughter's children, and not the decedent's intestate heirs, as the beneficiaries of the estate. But the trial court also held that the decedent's intestate heirs have a cause of action for undue influence in the execution of the decedent's wills leaving everything to his wife and her family.  Both issues were raised on appeal.

The Court first addressed the Slayer Statute issue.  The decedent's cousins argued that the Slayer Statute should be interpreted to also bar the daughter and her children from inheriting.  The Court found that the Slayer Statute is clear and ambiguous and disinherits only the slayer or anyone who participates in the killing of the decedent from any rights to the victim's estate.  The Court refused to extend the prohibition on inheritance to the heirs of the slayer.

The Court then held that the decedent's intestate heirs were able to state a cause of action for undue influence, even though the "undue influencer" was the wife, and not her family, because they alleged that the entire will was tainted by the wife and the bequests in favor of her family could not be severed from the rest of the will.  The Court cited to the distinction between circumstances where only a portion of the will was procured by undue influence and circumstances where it appeared the entire instrument was the result of undue influence.  It held that the intestate heirs' allegations that the contested wills were entirely tainted and that the wife's actions were undertaken not only to benefit herself but also her family were enough to state a cause of action for undue influence as to the entire will. 


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