Florida Appellate Court Reviews Burden of Proof in Property Deed Challenges

In the recent case of Marcinkiewicz v. Quattrocchi, the Third District Court of Appeals considered a case involving a property deed. The facts of the case are as follows. In 2007, the son had moved to Hawaii from Miami to move into the house where his mother was living, which is the property at issue in this case. The son moved to Miami with the understanding that he would be taking care of his mother and that she would someday give him ownership of the house. In 2009, the mother vacated the house and moved in with her daughter and son-in-law. The son continued living in the property. The mother continued to pay for expenses associated with the property while the son lived there. However, the son acquired tenants at the property and collected rent for their occupancy.

In 2010, the mother was declared legally incompetent, requiring the creation of a guardianship over her assets. Her daughter served as the guardian. The guardianship over her property was dissolved two years later, while a limited guardianship over her person persisted. This limited guardianship provided the daughter with the right to decide her mother’s medical treatment and location of residence.

Roughly one year later, the mother provided a property deed to her son-in-law instead of deeding the property to her son. The mother reportedly visited her attorney and requested that a quitclaim deed for the home be provided to the son-in-law. During trial, the son-in-law claimed he had no knowledge of the mother’s intention to do this.

The son-in-law filed a proceeding to eject the son from the property, and the son filed a countersuit to set aside the mother’s deed to the son-in-law and to have the court recognize what he described as his equitable right to the property.

The trial court heard the matter and issued a ruling setting aside the mother’s deeding of the property to the son-in-law and rejecting the biological son’s claim to equitable ownership.

Ultimately, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling setting aside the deed, but it agreed with the trial court’s ruling rejecting the son’s claim to equitable ownership. The lower court improperly instructed the jury that the son-in-law was required to show that the mother was not suffering from incapacitation at the time she executed the quitclaim deed. As the plaintiff in the ejectment action, the son-in-law only needed to show that he held rightful title to the property in question. In challenging the validity of the deed, the biological son needed to show that his mother lacked mental capacity. Additionally, the appellate court noted that in Florida, any challenge to a deed’s validity must overcome the strong presumption that the deed is valid. This must be done using clear, strong, and convincing evidence.

If you are involved in a property dispute, the dedicated real estate lawyers at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano are prepared to assist you. Serving clients throughout Southwest Florida, including in Naples, Cape Coral, and Fort Myers, we provide a free consultation to discuss your potential legal claim and how our team may be able to assist you. To schedule your appointment, call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online.

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