How Settling an Estate Lawsuit Can Still Lead to Additional Legal Issues
Estate and Trust litigation can be time consuming and expensive for the parties involved. Even when a dispute is settled, there may still be outstanding fees owed to the Personal Representative or Trustee. It is therefore important for all of the parties to be on the same page when it comes to such compensation issues–otherwise there may end up being additional litigation.
Long-Running Estate Litigation Ends in Argument Over Legal Fees
Take this recent decision from the Florida First District Court of Appeal, Ervin v. Smith. This case involved a long-running estate dispute between a group of siblings and the lawyer appointed to run their late mother’s Estate. In 2009, the mother inherited most of her deceased husband’s Estate. While the father’s Estate was still being settled, the mother decided to make a new Will and Trust.
Tragically, the mother died just three weeks later in a car accident where her son was the driver. He survived. As it turned out, he was also named as the Personal Representative in the mother’s Will. The son’s two sisters petitioned the probate court to remove the son as Personal Representative. They also contested the Will and Trust.
The probate Court eventually removed the son and appointed an outside attorney as Personal Representative. A dispute then arose between the new Personal Representative and the daughters. They wanted the Personal Representative to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the son for causing the accident that killed their mother. But the legal deadline to file such a case had already passed. The Estate nevertheless filed a separate lawsuit, accusing the son of “neglect and exploitation” of the mother.
All of the parties ultimately agreed to a settlement. One of the terms of the settlement specified that each of the three siblings would pay one-third of the Personal Representative’s fees and costs. But another provision said that any failure to “comply” with the settlement would entitled the other parties to damages plus legal fees.
As it turned out, the son ended up appealing the settlement agreement. This appeal amounted to failure to comply. As such, the First District issued an order back in 2016 ordering the son to pay the Personal Representative $29,081.25 in legal fees. Roughly three years later, in April 2019, the Personal Representative moved to close the Estate and requested payment of $89,953.68 from the three siblings pursuant to the terms of the settlement agreement.
The daughters objected, arguing that the Personal Representative had requested $29,081.25 in appellate fees, which they claimed was a duplicate of what the First District previously ordered the son alone to pay. In its second opinion, issued on February 12, 2021, the Court explained that the fee sought by the Personal Representative now was for different legal work than the fee the son had to pay. More to the point, the fee was expressly authorized by the settlement agreement.
Speak with a Florida Estate Litigation Attorney Today
If you are involved in any sort of Trust or Estate dispute, it is critical that you seek out qualified legal representation. The Pompano Beach estate and trust litigation lawyers at Mark R. Manceri, P.A., are ready to assist. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.