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Can a Non-Beneficiary Try to Reopen a Florida Probate Estate?


A person may execute several different wills during their lifetime. Indeed, one reason we refer to a document as a “Last Will and Testament” is that, at the time of execution, it represents the testator’s final wishes. Typically, a Florida will contains language making it clear that this document revokes any prior wills the testator may have signed in the past. Many Florida probate disputes arise because of the presence of multiple wills, or documents purported to be different wills from the same testator.

Florida Appeals Court Sorts Out Case Involving Decedent with Three Different Wills

A recent decision from the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals, Chauncy v. Godon, offers a useful illustration. This case involved three different wills purportedly signed by the same testator, whose last name was McNairy. After McNairy died in August 2018, a man named Chauncy filed a petition to administer McNairy’s estate. Chauncy was not related to McNairy, but he presented a will that McNairy purportedly signed in 2007. Another unrelated man, whose name was Gorden, filed his own petition, offering a 2018 will signed by McNairy as the Last Will and Testament.

The probate court ultimately determined that the 2018 will was valid and the 2007 will was invalid. The court appointed Gorden as administrator of McNairy’s estate. In July 2022, Gorden completed the administration and received a discharge from the court.

But three months later, Chauncy filed a new petition to reopen the McNairy estate. Chauncy alleged that Gorden committed fraud by failing to disclose yet another will that McNairy purportedly signed–this one in 1998–that named McNairy’s brother and Chauncy’s father as the beneficiaries of his estate. Both men died before McNairy.

Gorden said Chauncy lacked legal standing to reopen the estate since he was not an “interested party” under the 1998 will. The probate court agreed with Gorden. Chauncy appealed, but the Fifth District upheld the trial court’s ruling.

The appellate court explained that even assuming the 1998 will was valid, McNairy’s bequests to his brother and Chauncy’s father both lapsed with their respective deaths. In other words, Chauncy would not inherit the share of McNairy’s estate left to his father. Since the father predeceased McNairy, his share of McNairy’s estate would instead pass as part of the residue (remainder) of the estate to McNairy’s next of kin.

One judge on the Fifth District panel wrote separately to add that Florida does have an “anti-lapse” statute that can prevent a bequest under a will from lapsing. But that statute was inapplicable here, as it covered situations involving the grandparent (or a descendant of the grandparent) of the testator. And as previously noted, Chauncy was not related to McNairy, who was the testator here.

Contact Pompano Beach Multiple Wills Lawyer Mark R. Manceri Today

If you are involved in a probate matter where more than one will may be the valid one, it is important to seek out legal advice from a qualified Pompano Beach estate and trust litigation attorney. Contact the offices of Mark R. Manceri, P.A. today to schedule a consultation with a member of our team.



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