Generally, people have the right to draft wills that distribute their property after they die in any manner that they deem fit. If a person lacks sound mind or is coerced or otherwise unjustly persuaded into making certain testamentary decisions, though, a will may be deemed invalid, and the courts may refuse to admit it into probate. In a recent Florida opinion, the court discussed the evidence needed to establish that a will is the product of undue influence and is void, in a matter in which the court ultimately found the will was valid. If you recently lost a loved one and would like to object to his or her will or otherwise need assistance with a probate matter, it is advisable to speak to a capable Florida probate attorney to determine your rights and possible courses of action.
Facts of the Case
It is reported that after the testator died in 2017, the defendant, who was her daughter and the personal representative of her estate, filed a formal petition for the administration of the testator’s 2003 will. The will dictated, in part, that the testator’s home in Key West was to be sold and the proceeds distributed among her five children. The plaintiff, one of the testator’s other daughters, was only to receive 4% of the proceeds of the sale, however, and the remaining children were to receive 24% each.
Allegedly, the will also granted a vacant lot to the defendant and ordered that the remainder of the testator’s assets be sold and the proceeds divided among the children, excluding the plaintiff. The plaintiff objected to the administration of the will, arguing that it was the product of the defendant’s undue influence. Two of the other children joined in the objection as well. The trial court found in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed.
Proving a Will Was the Product of Undue Influence
Under Florida law, a will procured via undue influence is void. Typically, a person objecting to a will bears the burden of establishing the grounds for opposing it, including undue influence. The Florida courts have ruled that a rebuttable presumption of undue influence will arise when a beneficiary who receives substantial assets under the will had a confidential relationship with the testator and was active in procuring the contested will.
If the beneficiary sets forth a reasonable explanation for his or her involvement in the testator’s affairs, the presumption of undue influence will disappear. In the subject case, the appellate court noted that the evidence demonstrated that the defendant was very close with her mother and cared for her both financially and personally over the years. In contrast, the plaintiff borrowed a significant sum of money from her mother and never paid her back. Based on the foregoing, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.
Consult a Dedicated Florida Attorney
People who believe a will was procured via undue influence or is otherwise invalid can file objections, and it is prudent for anyone who wishes to assert any objection to seek the counsel of a lawyer. If you have questions regarding a will or probate matter, the dedicated Florida probate attorneys of Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, P.A. can inform you of our options and help you take the measures necessary to fight to protect your interests. You can reach us through our form online or at 800-283-7442 to set up a conference.