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Florida Probate: Undue Influence Invalidated Will

Posted on: April 22nd, 2015
florida probateA case recently resolved in Florida probate court that involved charges of spousal undue influence. Parties to Blinn v. Carlman were Patty Carlman, the daughter of the decedent Richard Blinn, and Blinn’s surviving spouse Demetra. 

At the time Demetra and Richard Blinn wed in 2007, court records reflect Richard was 82-years-old and suffered dementia. Medical records show his mental health began to suffer as early as 2005. When Richard’s will was drafted, Demetra (Richard’s fourth wife) provided the lawyer outdated documentation that reflected Richard was of sound mind. Richard was determined “completely incapacitated” in 2011 and his daughter Patty was named his guardian.

Charges of undue influence are one of the causes individuals might cite when contesting a will. In Florida, and most states, proof of the undue influence is required in probate court. The court documents reflect that Florida probate courts consider the below variables in determining whether undue influence was involved:
 
(a) presence of the beneficiary at the execution of the will;
(b) presence of the beneficiary on those occasions when the testator expressed a desire to make a will;
(c) recommendation by the beneficiary of an attorney to draw the will;
(d) knowledge of the contents of the will by the beneficiary prior to execution;
(e) giving of instructions on preparation of the will by the beneficiary to the attorney drawing the will;
(f) securing of witnesses to the will by the beneficiary; and
(g) safekeeping of the will by the beneficiary subsequent to execution

A Florida appeals court affirmed the invalidation of the will. In Blinn v. Carlman, the evidence included:
 
  • Outdated documentation of the decedent’s mental health at the time his will was executed.
  • Handwritten letters made by Demetra in 2008, 2010, and 2011 to Richard’s life insurance company requesting she replace Patty as primary beneficiary.
  • “Suspicious circumstances” of will execution involving two lawyers. One was a drafting attorney who did not provide legal advice to the Blinns, and the other attorney spent “minimal time” reviewing the documents.
  • Inconsistent estate plan terms in a short timeline. Richard’s will in 2006 named Patty as the primary beneficiary. The revised will in 2008 left Richard’s entire estate to Demetra. 
  • Verbally abusive voicemail recording involving Demetra yelling at Richard.

A strategic way to avoid probate and family conflicts includes the use of trusts. Trusts allow the confidential transfer of assets to beneficiaries, allow the creator to include specific provisions regarding how and to whom assets are to be distributed, and can help preserve a beneficiary’s share of assets from creditors. Since assets held in trust pass outside of probate, the terms of the asset distribution remain private. If you are concerned with how an estate is being administrated, or you want to prevent family conflicts when planning your own estate, discuss concerns and options with a Florida estate planning attorney.
 
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