Can You Sell Your Homestead Without Your Spouse if You Are Married in Florida?

A recurring problem in Florida real estate transactions is an invalid conveyance or sale because of the failure to understand Florida’s restrictions as to the sale of a homestead property as to a married couple.  In Florida if your married the State of Florida, via its constitutional protections for its citizens imposes some restrictions on the sale of “homestead property” (ie your domicile) so as to advance the public policy interest of not leaving spouses or minor children without a home.  Those protections are derived from Fla. Const. Art. X 4(c) which provides the following language:

SECTION 4. Homestead; exemptions.—

(a) There shall be exempt from forced sale under process of any court, and no judgment, decree or execution shall be a lien thereon, except for the payment of taxes and assessments thereon, obligations contracted for the purchase, improvement or repair thereof, or obligations contracted for house, field or other labor performed on the realty, the following property owned by a natural person:

(1) a homestead, if located outside a municipality, to the extent of one hundred sixty acres of contiguous land and improvements thereon, which shall not be reduced without the owner’s consent by reason of subsequent inclusion in a municipality; or if located within a municipality, to the extent of one-half acre of contiguous land, upon which the exemption shall be limited to the residence of the owner or the owner’s family;

(2) personal property to the value of one thousand dollars.

(b) These exemptions shall inure to the surviving spouse or heirs of the owner.

(c) The homestead shall not be subject to devise if the owner is survived by spouse or minor child, except the homestead may be devised to the owner’s spouse if there be no minor child. The owner of homestead real estate, joined by the spouse if married, may alienate the homestead by mortgage, sale or gift and, if married, may by deed transfer the title to an estate by the entirety with the spouse. If the owner or spouse is incompetent, the method of alienation or encumbrance shall be as provided by law. (more…)

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How to Probate Property in Florida if You Live Out of State

Many of our Clients have loved ones who have passed away in Florida but they themselves are residents of a foreign state.  In this type of scenario, it is important to consider how to effectively probate an estate in Florida if you reside somewhere else.

A. If your Primary Proceedings will be in Florida:

If the deceased was a resident of Florida then primary probate proceedings should occur within the State of Florida:

Fla. Stat. 733.101 provides:

733.101 Venue of probate proceedings.

(1) The venue for probate of wills and granting letters shall be:

(a) In the county in this state where the decedent was domiciled.

(b) If the decedent had no domicile in this state, then in any county where the decedent’s property is located.

(c) If the decedent had no domicile in this state and possessed no property in this state, then in the county where any debtor of the decedent resides.

(2) For the purpose of this section, a married woman whose husband is an alien or a nonresident of Florida may establish or designate a separate domicile in this state.

(3) Whenever a proceeding is filed laying venue in an improper county, the court may transfer the action in the same manner as provided in the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. Any action taken by the court or the parties before the transfer is not affected by the improper venue.

So typically we will initiate the probate proceedings in the County in Florida the decedent was domiciled.   If you are a non-resident and looking to become the appointed Personal Representative (aka the Executor) then you can be a nonresident subject to he restrictions of Fla. Stat. 733.304 which provide: (more…)

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Florida Probate Basics: Should You Object to a Petition for Administration?

What is a Petition for Administration

In a Florida probate proceeding if you have not initiated the case, you may be surprised to receive, typically via US certified mail return receipt requested, a document called a Petition for Administration.  Florida law requires that this document be served in a manner with delivery tracking or in any other method of service acceptable under the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure (ie a process server).

The Petition for Administration is meant to set forth the basic information regarding the decedent, including his or her residence, date of death and basic family structure (if no will) or intestacy structure if there is a will.  This document starts a probate proceeding.  The document will also identify the venue (ie the county) where the proceeding shall take place.   Importantly it will also contain the Petitioner’s (the person executing the document) best guess as to the assets in the estate.  If the assets end up being less or more than initially anticipated in the Petition, the probate administration simply adjusts to encompass these changes through a later filing called an inventory.  The Petition will also identify either the beneficiaries in the estate (if there is a will) or the heirs entitled to a share in the probate assets by virtue of the family structure and rules of intestate succession.  Finally and importantly, this document is typically filed by a Petitioner seeking to become the Personal Representative of the Estate.  (more…)

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Tools to Prevent and Pursue Recovery for Elder Abuse in Florida

During the course of handling probate administrations, estate planning and contested adversarial probate cases throughout Florida, one dark and recurring theme has continued to arise.  Claims of exploitation and elderly abuse are rampant in our nation, and especially so in Florida.  The prominence of elder abuse in Florida may be in part due to the unique demographics of our state but sadly it is also in part caused by either indifference or willful ignorance of the problem.  This article is meant to provide a brief overview of the available tools in Florida to prevent elder exploitation and if you are unfortunate enough to be dealing with recovering from such abuse, a basic road map of some of your available remedies under current Florida law.


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How to Get the Most from Your Hurricane Irma Claim

Although Hurricane Irma was less damaging than first anticipated, it has caused major damage throughout the state.  Many families were left with property damage and no power.   Tree limbs, heavy wind driven rain and flooding have destroyed businesses and residential properties throughout the state.  Dealing with an insurance company after a loss can make a bad situation worse if you’re not adequately prepared.  Our office has handled and litigated hundreds of property insurance disputes, here is what we recommend: (more…)

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Establishing Paternity in Florida Probate Litigation Disputes

Florida Law has a mechanism for the establishment of paternity testing.  Fla. Stat. §742.12 provides a framework for the evidentiary use of paternity testing.  Importantly, Florida law requires a written sworn statement alleging the facts establishing the conflict or question regarding paternity.  Fla. Stat. 742.12 also provides the framework for the Court’s evidentiary analysis by specifically acknowledging that test results shall be filed with the Court and are admissible evidence and that certain statistical probabilities carry evidentiary presumptions.

In order to qualify to obtain DNA evidence from the relevant parties in a Probate Proceeding you must establish a discovery request under Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.360, “examination of persons.”  The rule provides as follows: (more…)

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Florida “As Is” Real Estate Contracts and the Duty to Disclose in Residential Home Sales

A recurring source of litigation in Florida revolves around the rights of buyers and sellers operating under an “As Is” contract for sale of residential property.

          A. The Seller’s Obligations to Disclose Under Florida Law

Despite the existence of contractual language excusing a seller of a property from representations (ie the “AS IS” language), Florida law provides a separate independent duty to disclose material facts that would substantially affect the value of a piece of property.  Johnson v. Davis, 480 So.2d 625 (Fla. 1985).   Importantly, the test for determining the materiality of a fact in a transaction of this nature is whether the fact “substantially affects the value of the property.”  Dorton v. Jensen, 676 So.2d 437 (Fla. 2nd DCA 1996). That means that when a seller of a home knows of facts materially affecting the value of the property which are not readily observable and are not known to the buyer, the seller is under a duty to disclose them to the buyer.  Johnson, 480 So. 2d at 629.   The examples of such factors are endless but often include things like prior insurance claims, roof conditions, floods, construction defects, mold, termites, and septic/sewer system issues.  Ultimately, the determination of whether the defect or issue if established is material would be question for the jury.  A non-disclosure case requires the Plaintiff to establish the following elements: (more…)

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What is an Examination Under Oath in Florida?

Most insurance policies provide that an insurance company maintains the right to take an “Examination Under Oath” or EUO of its insured(s) as a pre-condition to extending coverage. The Examinations Under Oath are handled by Insurance company attorneys and can serve as the basis for denying insurance claims if damaging testimony or documents are obtained.  Many times the Examination Under Oath will provide a request for a production of documents to occur simultaneously during the Examination Under Oath.  The Examination Under Oath typically takes several hours and can be very intensive.  These proceedings are very similar to depositions and are typically taken in the presence of a Court Reporter who will then maintain a written transcript of the proceeding for future use.    (more…)

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Objections to the Final Accounting of a Personal Representative in Florida

Pursuant to the Florida Rules of Probate Procedure an interested person has 30 days to object to a Final Accounting and Petition for Discharge within thirty (30) days after service of the documents.  Importantly, written objections must state with particularity the items to which the objections are directed and must state the specific grounds upon which the objections are based.  Finally, procedurally all objections must be served on the Personal Representative and interested persons no later than 30 days from the date of service of the Petition for Discharge or Final Accounting.   Then the objecting party must set a hearing on the objection and that Notice of Hearing must also be heard.  If you fail to serve the Notice of Hearing within 90 days, your objection will be deemed abandoned and the Personal Representative may make distributions. (more…)

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