What Happens If I Discover a Deceased Relative Has Unclaimed Property in Florida?
Not every death leads to the opening of a formal probate estate. There are situations where a Florida court may instead approve a shortened process known as summary administration. Generally, summary administration is appropriate when the deceased has been dead for more than two years or the net value of the estate–assets less any creditor claims–is no more than $75,000.
Appeals Court Rejects DFS Attempt to Interfere in Probate Case
The two-year rule is especially helpful to families who belatedly discover their loved one had a previously undiscovered asset. This actually happens more than you might think. For instance, the Florida Department of Financial Services (DFS) maintains holds over $1 billion in “unclaimed property accounts,” many of which belong to now-deceased individuals. In many cases, heirs and decedents only learn of this property years after the fact.
And sometimes this property is quite valuable. Consider this recent decision from the Florida First District Court of Appeals, In re Estate of Bunda. This case involves a dispute over a previously unclaimed home insurance check. The insurance company issued a check for $273,100 to the now-deceased homeowner for the loss of his house.
But the homeowner apparently still had a mortgage on the property, and the company holding the loan was listed as a “loss payee” on the policy. This led to litigation involving the loss payee and the homeowner’s three children.
Essentially, the children filed a petition for summary administration of their father’s estate. This was a necessary step to obtain possession of the insurance check, which the children said they were entitled to 50 percent of under Florida law. The probate court granted the petition and authorized distribution of the check as requested.
At the same time, the DFS issued a notice stating its intentions to distribute the insurance check–which was still in its possession as unclaimed property–to the loss payee. The DFS then asked the court in a letter to set aside its previous order awarding the check to the children. The trial court decided to defer to DFS on this issue and issued a new order withdrawing its prior decision.
On appeal, the First District agreed with the children that the trial court lacked the authority to unilaterally take such an action. Under Florida court rules, a judge can only set aside a final order “in cases of clerical mistake,” which was not the case here. A judge may also revise or withdraw an order on the motion of a party, but that also did not happen here. Rather, the judge acted based on the letter from the DFS, which was not a party to the probate action.
Furthermore, the appeals court noted the children were entitled to advance notice and an “opportunity to be heard” before the trial court reversed its decision. Accordingly, the First District reinstated the trial court’s original decision granting the children’s petition for summary administration.
Speak with a Lee County Probate Lawyer Today
If you have identified property that might have belonged to a deceased relative, it is imperative you speak with a qualified Fort Myers summary administration attorney to learn what steps you should take next. Contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 today to schedule a free consultation.