Can Florida Probate Courts Settle Disputes Over Real Estate Ownership?
One of the main functions of probate in Florida is to ensure any creditors of the deceased are paid. A creditor must file a claim against the estate. The personal representative can then pay or object to the claim.
Son Pursues Quiet Title Claim Against Late Mother’s Probate Estate
Although claims against the estate typically involve unpaid bills or other money owed, it can in some cases cover disputes over the ownership of real property. A recent decision from the Florida Third District Court of Appeals, Ford v. Estate of Ford, provides a case in point. This case involved a property dispute between a mother and son that began while the mother was still alive and continued after her death.
The mother owned four pieces of real estate in Florida. Before she died, she filed a lawsuit seeking ejectment of her son from those properties. An “ejectment” is a legal proceeding used to remove an unwanted occupant from a property (i.e., someone who occupies the land but does not have a lease). The son filed a counter-suit alleging the properties actually belonged to him and sought to quiet title accordingly.
But the mother died before the son filed his counterclaims. With the civil lawsuit still pending, the son also filed a claim against his mother’s probate estate over what he alleged was the theft of the four properties from him. The son asked the probate court to order the estate to return the properties, essentially the same relief he sought in his quiet title action.
Nearly five years passed. In May 2022, the probate court denied the son’s claim against the estate. The probate court noted that the Circuit Court previously dismissed his quiet title lawsuit, and as such it held the relief he sought was “not a probate claim against the Estate.” On appeal, the Third District held the probate court’s reasoning was “faulty” and returned the case for further proceedings.
The appellate court explained that the Circuit Court had dismissed the son’s quiet title claim for failure to prosecute. That dismissal was without prejudice, however, meaning the parties could re-file the lawsuit at a later date. Critically, a dismissal without prejudice did not adjudicate the merits of the son’s civil claims. It also did not prevent the son from pursuing a separate claim against the probate estate seeking similar relief. And the probate court does have the authority to grant the kind of equitable relief sought by the son against the estate.
Contact Florida Estate Litigation Lawyer Mark R. Manceri Today
Property disputes are just one kind of legal issue that may arise when administering a Florida probate estate. A qualified Pompano Beach estate and trust litigation attorney can advise you of your rights in such proceedings. Contact Mark R. Manceri, P.A., today to schedule an initial consultation with a lawyer today.