Trust and Estate Litigation
Dean Mead’s Trust and Estate Litigation Practice Group represents plaintiffs, defendants and non-parties in all kinds of controversies involving wills, trusts and estates. Some are will and trust contests, where a final will or trust is challenged on the grounds that the decedent lacked mental capacity or was unduly influenced. Others are claims for breach of fiduciary duty, or demands for reformation of wills and trusts. Our team handles almost any kind of dispute involving personal representatives, trustees, beneficiaries, heirs, conservators, guardians, and trust companies.
- Will Contests – We represent beneficiaries who wish to challenge the validity of a will, as well as personal representatives who have a fiduciary duty and obligation to defend the will. This includes wills that are challenged due to undue influence, mental incapacity, inadequate formalities, fraud, mistake or other grounds.
- Trust Contests – Our Group represents beneficiaries who wish to challenge the validity of a trust, as well as trustees who have a fiduciary duty and obligation to defend the trust. The same issues in will contests generally apply to trust contests.
- Trust and Will Construction – When necessary, our Group reviews wills and trust instruments to interpret ambiguous or conflicting language in a way that is most favorable to our client.
- Trust Reformation – We prepare reformation documentation and represent a trustee’s interests in court and before the Internal Revenue Service.
- Accounting Actions – Our Group assists beneficiaries with petitioning the court for accountings, and we also prepare accountings for those who are required to submit them.
- Fiduciary Misconduct – We defend fiduciaries against whom claims are made and prosecute such claims on behalf of beneficiaries and estate creditors.
- Fiduciary Removal – Our Group represents beneficiaries wishing to remove a fiduciary and fiduciaries who are defending against a removal action.
- Surcharge Actions – We represent beneficiaries bringing surcharge claims against fiduciaries, as well as fiduciaries defending against surcharge claims.
- Probate and Trust Appeals – When a client elects to challenge an adverse probate decision, our Group will file an appeal of the trial court decisions on behalf of our client.
- Tax Appeals – We represent clients before the Internal Revenue Service and Florida Department of Revenue during audits and obtain judicial adjudications of disputes with these taxing authorities.
- Guardianships – Our Group provides representation in connection with an action to appoint a guardian for minors as well as persons who are mentally or physically incapacitated. This includes representing the proposed guardian, the person who is alleged to be incapacitated or another interested person who may wish to challenge the proceeding.
Representative Experience Performing Trust & Estate Litigation Services:
- Represented daughter’s family from decedent’s prior marriage to avoid the effect of a will left by the surviving spouse that purported to leave virtually all their marital assets to her own children from a prior marriage, yet the husband’s trust allowed his wife to exercise a limited power of appointment only in favor of his “lineal descendants,” where surviving spouse’s attorneys argued there was ambiguity in how the term “lineal descendants” was defined and used in her will.
- Represented daughter from surviving spouse’s prior marriage who was proper recipient of 1/3 share of decedent’s estate, along with 1/3 for each of decedent’s own children from a prior marriage, to ensure that an IRA also was divided equally three ways, despite the fact that the decedent apparently named himself as the beneficiary of the IRA, and the taker in default provision would have included only his own biological children in a situation where there is no named beneficiary who survives the settlor.
- Represented surviving girlfriend of the decedent who had held herself out as his wife for 30 years, although they were never married, and who had been the sole beneficiary of the decedent’s estate plan for many years, to void the decedent’s last will and testament which was prepared only around one month before he died, when he lacked testamentary capacity, after he was visited by his out-of-state friend from the Navy who drove him to a law office to prepare documents which purported to make him an equal beneficiary with the girlfriend for the first time ever.
- Represented decedent’s daughter from a prior marriage who, along with the surviving spouse’s daughter from a prior marriage, was always included as an equal contingent beneficiary in both spouse’s estate plans, but because the decedent apparently made the conscious decision not to fund his trust, upon his death their marital assets passed directly to the wife as a joint title holder or account beneficiary, and she immediately prepared a new will and trust to ensure their assets which were now hers alone would pass only to her biological children.
- Represented daughter who was trustee of her mother’s trust to defend allegations by her siblings that she failed to keep the plaintiffs adequately informed of the trust administration, provided insufficient accountings, transferred money from the wrong bank account to fund a personal acquisition yet promptly returned it to the trust account with interest, failed to make final trust distributions in a timely manner, improperly paid herself trust commissions, and treated real property as an asset of the trust when actually it had been deeded directly to the plaintiffs.
- Represented trustee of revocable living trust to defend a Petition for Accounting that was dismissed by a Final Order of Dismissal which was later vacated and the action re-filed with new counts for breach of fiduciary duty, undue influence, intentional interference with an expectancy, and constructive trust, all based on claims that the trustee had allegedly prevented certain of the decedent’s assets from funding the trust, and all of which were favorably disposed of on summary judgment.
- Represented major financial institution that was acting as co-trustee of a trust in an action brought by the decedent’s children and sole beneficiaries of the trust alleging that the trust officer at the financial institution, along with the other co-trustees, improperly sold two parcels of real estate from the trust without obtaining the best possible purchase offers, and provided incorrect accountings by failing to acknowledge the repayment of a promissory note which some evidence indicated had not been repaid.
- Represented elderly man with memory disorders who survived his wife and who, due to their marriage later in life, was not included in her estate plan, to enforce his statutory right to obtain a 30% elective share of her estate, despite the strong objections of her children from a prior marriage that he had lacked the capacity to sign a document claiming his elective share, that he had originally agreed to waive his right to an elective share, although only orally, and that the election was forced by his daughter who would ultimately receive this very significant sum after her father’s lifetime.
- Represented personal representative of oil tycoon’s estate whose adopted sister filed a petition for revocation of probate of a will and codicil on the grounds of undue influence and lack of testamentary capacity, arguing primarily that the family took actions to disparage her and isolate her from her mother, yet she had been omitted as an heir to the family fortune throughout at least eleven (11) estate planning documents executed by the decedent between 1989 and 2006.
- Took case to trial for daughter and granddaughter of a testator who led a zealous religious sect in North Dakota and Florida and whose personal secretary received and wrote all correspondence for the testator, screened her phone calls, and even blocked physical access to the residence from the daughter and granddaughter in California, as the plaintiffs eventually began to lose their family relationship and were all but written out of the family trust in a final amendment that was discussed by the secretary and an attorney while the testator was very ill sitting outside of the room.
- Represented former general counsel of national university who was the surviving spouse of a former state supreme court justice amid allegations by the stepchildren that the co-trustees were required to consider the surviving spouse’s other income, assets and resources in making discretionary distributions for health, education, maintenance and support, despite the plain language of the trust stating otherwise, and to refute claims that the co-trustees violated the Prudent Investor Rule and otherwise caused an unnecessary dissipation of assets.
- Represented three beneficiaries of an estate who objected to a settlement agreement that was proposed for court approval by the trustee, where the trustee was led to believe by the decedent’s brother that the decedent had orally promised the brother a one-half ownership interest in a valuable family business before he died, despite that the governing documents did not allow for such a purported transfer, and the beneficiaries rejected the brother’s alleged claim and called an evidentiary hearing at which the judge heard testimony and agreed that under the circumstances, the proposed settlement was not in the best interest of the beneficiaries.
- Represented children from the first marriage in objecting to estate accounting where assets of the estate were inappropriately used to pay for expenses of decedent’s Florida homestead when Personal Representative (surviving spouse who did not reside on homestead) failed to file Notice of Taking Possession of Protected Homestead under 733.608(2) and Rule 5.404.
- Represented a decedent’s son from a first marriage in obtaining and defending his appointment as Successor Personal Representative for his father’s Estate, after the death of the original personal representative, who was decedent’s second spouse. Then the firm defended the Successor Personal Representative in a declaratory judgment action brought by the Personal Representatives of the Estate of the second spouse that sought a determination by the court that a Generation-Skipping Trust for the benefit of certain issue of the decedent’s first marriage should be funded with only $1,000,000, and not $5,000,000 as deemed appropriate by the Successor Personal Representative. The firm was able to obtain an order dismissing the complaint filed by the Co-Personal Representatives of the second spouse’s estate.
- Represented the Personal Representative with respect to a claim in the estate of the second spouse, for misappropriation of assets and breach of fiduciary duty by the second spouse, while she was serving as the initial personal representative of the decedent’s Estate. A settlement agreement was reached by the parties whereby the Successor Personal Representative recovered $2,500,000 from the second spouse’s estate.
- Represented the Personal Representative of a large estate in a will contest in which one of the beneficiaries of the estate alleged that the decedent lacked testamentary capacity at the time he prepared his last will and trust. The case involved extensive discovery in multiple states regarding the decedent’s businesses over many years and his uneven testamentary distributions to extended family members. The will was upheld in its entirety by the court.
Estate Planning Seminar Video
Dean Mead’s Estate & Succession Planning department kicked-off the 2013 Estate Planning Seminar Series with a timely presentation on March 13 in front of nearly 90 attendees at the Orange County Bar Association in Orlando. The presentation featured Dean Mead attorneys, Lauren Detzel, Matt Ahearn, David Akins and Brian Malec.
The program was titled: “Estate Planning After the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012”. They discussed the significant impact of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 on estate planning for 2013 and beyond, including the importance of income tax and portability planning. This included their perspective about the possibility for future tax legislation affecting estate planning that may be on the horizon.