As Floridians, we understand the importance of ensuring that legal agreements accurately reflect the intentions of the parties involved. However, sometimes errors occur in the drafting or recording of deeds, leading to unintended consequences. In such cases, the equitable remedy of “reformation” comes into play. Reformation aims to correct errors not in the parties’ agreement itself, but in the written document that embodies that agreement. Let’s explore this remedy and its significance in the context of Florida law.
What is Reformation?
Reformation is a legal remedy designed to prevent manifest injustice and express the true intent of the parties involved. Florida law allows for reformation of a contract, trust, or will in order to conform to the intent of the parties or settlor. Reformation is available when there is clear and convincing evidence that a mistake of fact or law affected the accomplishment of the settlor’s intent and the terms of the document. Reformation may also be available in cases of unilateral mistake, if the mistake is coupled with inequitable conduct by the other party.
The statutory basis for reformation actions in Florida is found in Fla. Stat. § 732.615 (for wills) and Fla. Stat. § 736.0415 (for trusts). Both statutes allow for reformation of the document in order to conform to the intent of the settlor or testator, if there is clear and convincing evidence that a mistake of fact or law affected the accomplishment of that intent. The statutes also allow for consideration of evidence that contradicts the plain meaning of the document in order to determine the original intent.
Establishing the Need for Reformation
To obtain reformation of a contract, trust, or will, the parties must demonstrate their intent to incorporate the proposed changes. This requirement ensures that any modifications align with the original intent of the settlor or testator and are not used to supply terms that were never agreed upon or omitted by the parties.
In Florida, various cases have shaped the understanding of deed reformation and its application. Schroeder v. Gebhart (825 So. 2d 442, Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2002) addresses the reformation of a trust after the settlor’s death, providing insights into the circumstances permitting reformation. Smith v. Royal Automotive Group, Inc. (675 So. 2d 144, Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1996) emphasizes reformation as an equitable remedy that allows a court to align a written instrument with the parties’ intentions. Florida Masters Packing v. Craig (739 So. 2d 1288, Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1999) discusses the reforming of a deed in cases of mutual mistake, shedding light on the importance of accurately reflecting the parties’ agreement. Zibell v. Chan (535 So. 2d 708, Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1988) clarifies the rights of a third-party grantee and the limitations on claiming reformation based on mutual mistake without notice. Rucks v. Ansin (198 So. 2d 662, Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1967) highlights the authority of equity courts to correct mutual mistakes in deed descriptions. Megiel-Rollo v. Megiel (162 So. 3d 1088, Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2015) discusses the controlling statute (Fla. Stat. § 736.0415) for trust reformation, providing guidance on when reformation is available. Finally, U.S. Bank v. Engle (311 So. 3d 197, Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020) emphasizes the need to prove mutual mistake and the parties’ intent for successful deed reformation. These cases collectively shape the understanding of deed reformation in Florida, highlighting the importance of clear and convincing evidence in establishing mistakes and aligning instruments with the parties’ true intentions.
Reformation serves as a vital remedy in Florida for correcting errors in deeds and other written instruments. By ensuring that agreements accurately reflect the intentions of the parties, reformation prevents injustice and upholds the true spirit of the original agreement. Florida law allows for reformation of contracts, trusts, and wills and deeds when there is clear and convincing evidence of a mistake of fact or law that affected the settlor’s intent and the terms of the document. Additionally, reformation may be available in cases of unilateral mistake, coupled with inequitable conduct. Understanding the legal principles and case law surrounding reformation is crucial in navigating this equitable remedy in Florida.
If you need assistance with the reformation of any instrument under Florida law or have any questions about the materials contained in this article give us a call. Our attorneys litigate property and estate disputes throughout the State of Florida and we offer free, no obligation consultations.
-Brice Zoecklein, Esq.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog/website is for informational purposes only and provides general information about the law but not specific advice. This information should not be used as a substitute for advice from competent legal counsel as laws change and the facts in your specific case need to be analyzed.