Ormond Beach Will Contest Attorney
Serving Ormond Beach, Florida
A person’s last will and testament typically expresses a person’s desires about how they want their assets to be distributed to their loved ones, but there can often be situations in which beneficiaries suspect misconduct relating to a will. People can contest wills in Florida, but they must have both legal standing and a legal basis for taking such actions.
Will contests often involve very strict deadlines, so it is important for any person who believes they may have a will contest issue to quickly seek legal representation for assistance in handling a claim. A simple surprise at who might be named beneficiaries is not enough on its own to contest a will, but people may have grounds to contest a will when they suspect that there is something suspicious about how a will was carried out.
A will can be declared invalid if it is not executed in accordance with Florida law. State law establishes specific criteria for wills to meet that includes a will being in writing, a will being signed by a testator, a testator signing the will in the presence of two witnesses, and the two witnesses signing the will in the presence of each other and the testator.
A will can contain an affidavit of proof, which is a secondary document stating that the will was signed in accordance with Florida statutes. A will and affidavit can both be challenged on technical grounds that they were not properly executed.
Lack of Testator Capacity
A person making a last will and testament must be of sound mind, meaning they have the mental competency to understand the nature and extent of their assets, the people who will inherit those assets, and the will creation process. Proving that a testator lacks capacity often relies on a medical diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer’s, or another form of mental incapacity.
A formal diagnosis is not necessary when witnesses can show that a testator was not of sound mind at or around the time a will was executed. In Murrey v. Barnett National Bank of Jacksonville, 74 So. 2d 647 (Fla. 1954), the Supreme Court of Florida held that “even a lunatic may make a will or a sale of property in a lucid interval.”
Undue influence claims will allege that testators did not act freely in executing their wills because of the improper influence of another person who convinced the testator to leave estate assets to them. Undue influence may be perpetrated by many close people, including relatives, friends, caretakers, advisers, acquaintances, or other people in positions of trust.
When evaluating undue influence claims, Florida courts consider three main factors:
- A testator and undue influencer had a confidential relationship.
- An undue influencer is a substantial beneficiary of a testator’s estate.
- An undue influencer took an active role in procuring a will.
The Supreme Court of Florida held in In re Estate of Carpenter, 253 So. 2d 697 (Fla. 1971) that undue influence can be assumed in cases in which a person benefits from a will, a person had a confidential relationship with a decedent, and a person was actively involved in procuring a will. Carpenter also established seven factors as a guide in undue influence cases:
- the presence of a beneficiary when a will was being executed
- the presence of a beneficiary when a testator expressed a desire to formulate a new will
- the beneficiary recommending an attorney draw up a will.
- the beneficiary knowing the contents of a will before it was executed
- the beneficiary giving the attorney specific instructions on will preparation
- the beneficiary securing witnesses to the will
- the beneficiary keeping the will safe until the execution
Florida looks at three additional factors when courts are evaluating undue influence. These include whether a testator was isolated from family members who can disagree with a will, whether there was any kind of mental disparity between a decedent and a beneficiary, and whether a will was reasonable.
Challenging a will based on fraud will require proving that a testator made or changed their will based on misrepresentations made by a beneficiary. If one beneficiary tells a testator that another beneficiary has financial trouble and should not inherit any estate assets and the testator that beneficiary out of the will based on the misrepresentation, the will may be invalidated based on fraud.
Fraud may also occur in the execution of a will, such as when a testator is told that a document they are signing is not a will or is not legally binding. The four general elements of fraud are false representations of material facts to the testator, knowledge by the perpetrator that the representations are false, intent that the representations be acted upon, and resulting injury, with the two primary types of fraud being Fraud in the Execution in which a testator is told a Will they are signing is something other than a Will, or Fraud in the Inducement in which a testator is intentionally misled by a material fact that caused a testator to make a different device than they will otherwise have made.
Several court cases in Florida have dealt with insane delusion claims. The Florida Supreme Court stated in Hooper v. Stokes, 107 Fla. 607, 145 So. 855 (Fla. 1933) that an insane delusion was a “fixed false belief without hypothesis, having no foundation in reality.”
In In re Estate of Edwards, 433 So. 2d 1349 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1983), the District Court of Appeal of Florida said that “An insane delusion has been defined as a spontaneous conception and acceptance as a fact, of that which has no real existence except in imagination. The conception must be persistently adhered to against all evidence and reason.” In Miami Rescue Mission, Inc. v. Roberts, 943 So. 2d 274 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2006), Ethel Manucy executed a will in January 2005 during a time she was hospitalized with severe pain and under the influence of very strong medication, dying the following day.
Manucy’s 2005 will disinherited her longtime caregiver and friend, Fair Ellen Roberts, and instead left her residuary estate in equal shares to four charities. When Manucy’s attorney offered the 2005 will for probate, Roberts petitioned the circuit court for revocation of the 2005 will from probate and for the administration of the previously executed 2003 will.
Roberts said Manucy suffered from an insane delusion when she executed her 2005 will and, therefore, lacked requisite testamentary capacity. Roberts claimed Manucy’s delusion involved the continued care of her dog, Manucy, and her finances, but Manucy believed Roberts had abandoned her, let her dog die, and was stealing from her.
A trial court determined Roberts’ position was supported by clear and convincing evidence and granted her petitions. The Third District Court of Appeal of Florida ruled that the trial court correctly determined Manucy was indeed suffering from an insane delusion regarding Roberts, and she executed her 2005 will based on this delusion, affirming the trial court’s order revoking the 2005 will from probate and submitting the 2003 will for probate administration.
Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Consultation with an Ormond Beach Will Contest Lawyer
If you think that you might have a valid reason for contesting a will in Florida, it is going to be essential for you to retain legal counsel. It is important to work with an experienced attorney in these types of cases because it can be so challenging to contest a will in accordance with state law.
Upchurch Law understands the most effective ways for people to contest wills and can help you understand all of the legal options in your case. Call (386) 272-7445 or contact us online to take advantage of a free consultation with our Ormond Beach will contest attorney.
They are well organized, detail oriented, and always looking for the best solution to the client's situation (not just the easy fix).- Chris B.
It gave me peace of mind and when I return I will go to him for my Will.- Lauri B.
Thomas Upchurch and his team have been remarkable in helping me take care of my grandmother's estate needs and Medicaid application to get her the care she deserves.- Ashley M.
I have had the privilege of working with Mr. Upchurch on behalf of numerous shared clients over the years. Each and every client has always expressed to me their thankfulness that Thomas Upchurch was involved in their case.- Ron Z.
I was highly impressed with Mr. Upchurch's skills and integrity, and feel very fortunate to have had him as our family's legal representative.- Gregory H.
Thomas and his staff were so helpful and professional which really helped my family and I when we didn't know what to do.- Maggie
Upchurch Law, and particularly Crystal Lukes (Legal Assistant), could not have been more competent, informative, pleasant to work with and aggressive in pursing a Probate close in a timely fashion.- Dorothy K.
Attorney Thomas Upchurch is professional, efficient, and knowledgeable of both probate litigation and estate planning.- Susan S.