Florida Court Rejects Effort to Reopen Trust Litigation After 11 Years
The purpose of creating an estate planning trust is to avoid probate. But avoiding probate does not always mean keeping the courts out of your business. There can still be disputes and legal issues that lead to trust litigation. In some cases, this litigation can be quite complex and take many years to resolve.
And even after trust litigation is resolved, some people may still be dissatisfied with the outcome and attempt to reopen the case. A recent decision from the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals, Thomas v. Blevins, provides a cautionary tale on this point. At least in this particular case, however, the attempt to reopen the litigation was not successful.
This case involved a trust created by a now-deceased married couple. The trust itself was quite complex and provided for a number of beneficiaries. Suffice to say, after the couple died, litigation followed between one of the beneficiaries named in the trust and the successor trustee.
The lawsuit itself was settled. In May 2009, a Florida judge approved the settlement and a final accounting of the estate. Essentially, this 2009 order approved a final distribution of the trust’s assets as proposed by the successor trustee. The distribution itself was completed sometime in 2011.
That should have been the end of the matter. But in 2018, another trust beneficiary returned to court. She filed a petition to “vacate” the 2009 order and reopen the administration of the trust itself. The beneficiary’s justification for this was her claim she never received proper notice of the original lawsuit back in 2009. As a beneficiary, she was an interested party in the trust’s administration and had a legal right to such service.
Here is what happened. The beneficiary was a minor at the time of the 2009 lawsuit. She was then living with her grandparents. The parties to the lawsuit did not serve the beneficiary at her grandparents’ home, however, but instead mailed the relevant paperwork to an “incorrect address.” The beneficiary argued this lack of proper service rendered the 2009 order “void.”
The courts disagreed. The Fifth District, upholding a trial judge’s earlier decision, explained that under Florida law, a party that wishes to set aside a void judgment must normally take action within two years. In other words, if the beneficiary wanted to challenge the 2009 order as void for lack of proper service, she was required to do so no later than 2011. And while a judge may extend this deadline if there is evidence of “extrinsic fraud,” that did not apply to the facts of this case.
Speak with a Florida Trust Lawyer Today
There are many reasons why a trust may end up in litigation. If you are involved in such litigation, you will need experienced legal advice and representation. Contact the Fort Myers trust litigation attorneys at the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 today to schedule a free confidential consultation.