Court Explains Standing to Contest a Will Under Florida Law

Many people have children outside of marriage or adopt children, and such children are generally considered rightful heirs of their parents’ estates. While typically it is clear if a parent-child relationship exists, in some instances, parentage is disputed, and a person seeking to contest a will as an heir may be denied. This was demonstrated in a recent Florida opinion, in which the court discussed the evidence needed to establish paternity in a case in which a deceased person’s alleged daughter sought to contest his will. If you suffered the loss of a family member and have questions regarding your rights with regard to your loved one’s estate, it is smart to meet with a knowledgeable Florida probate lawyer to discuss your options.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the decedent passed away in 2018, after which his will was submitted to probate. The will split his estate into equal shares that were provided to two individuals but failed to provide for the plaintiff. The will expressly stated that the decedent intentionally did not make a provision for the plaintiff, who the decedent referred to as his adopted daughter. It was revealed that the decedent dated the plaintiff’s mother when she was pregnant with the plaintiff but was not the plaintiff’s biological father. He permitted the plaintiff’s mother to list him as the plaintiff’s father on her birth certificate, purportedly to avoid stigma, but never financially supported or lived with the plaintiff.

Allegedly, the decedent’s relationship with the mother ended after three years, and he did not see the plaintiff again until shortly before his death. The plaintiff petitioned for revocation of probate and for intestate administration of the estate, arguing that she was the legal heir to the estate and the will was the product of undue influence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff, and the defendant, the representative of the estate, appealed. On appeal, the court found that the plaintiff lacked standing to contest the will and reversed the trial court ruling.

Establishing Paternity in Probate Actions

On appeal, the defendant argued that because the plaintiff was born out of wedlock, the four-year statute of limitations that applies to the establishment of paternity barred her claim. The court agreed. Specifically, the court explained that there is a four-year statute of limitations that applies to any action relating to the determination of paternity that begins when a person reaches the age of majority. The court clarified that the statute of limitations applies to acts in probate relating to the determination of paternity. In the subject case, the court found that the statute of limitations applied to the plaintiff’s claim, and therefore, it was extinguished prior to her institution of the lawsuit. As such, the court reversed the trial court ruling.

Confer with a Skilled Florida Attorney

If a will was brought about by undue influence, legal heirs of the deceased person’s estate can usually contest the will to protect their interests. If you believe your rights were violated with regard to a will or probate issue, you should confer with an attorney as soon as possible. The skilled Florida probate attorneys of Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, P.A. can advise you of your rights and aid you in pursuing the best legal outcome possible under the facts of your case. You can contact us through our online form or at 800-283-7442 to set up a meeting.

 

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