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When Will a Florida Court Decline to Hear a Case Involving a Foreign Estate?


Florida is a second home for many people. This can present certain complications when it comes to probate litigation. For example, if there are rival probate proceedings initiated in Florida and another state or country, who has jurisdiction?

Normally, Florida has jurisdiction over any probate property located within the state, such as real estate. So if a non-resident dies but owns property in Florida, it is often necessary to initiate an ancillary probate proceeding in Florida, which is secondary to the primary probate proceeding in the decedent’s home state or country. Even then, however, a Florida court may dismiss a probate proceeding if it determines that the parties would be better served having their dispute decided by a foreign court. In legal parlance, this is known as the rule of forum non conveniens.

Should Florida or Colombia Determine Widow’s Rights Under Post-Marital Agreement?

A recent decision from the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, De Holguin v. Godin, provides a practical example of what we are talking about. This case involved a resident of Colombia (the decedent) who died in 2019. The decedent was married at the time of his death. The couple had lived together in Colombia but maintained a second home in Florida.

During their marriage, the decedent and his wife signed a number of post-marital agreements regarding the disposition of their property. One such agreement was signed a few weeks before the decedent passed away. The agreement was written in Spanish and signed at a lawyer’s office in Bogota. As relevant here, the agreement stated that its terms were governed by Colombian law.

Several months after the decedent died, his adult daughter from a prior marriage sought to initiate ancillary probate proceedings in Florida. The decedent’s widow objected. She subsequently filed a creditor action against the Florida estate, citing the terms of the post-marital agreement. The daughter moved to dismiss the wife’s lawsuit on grounds of forum non conveniens, arguing that the matter should be resolved as part of the primary probate proceeding in Colombia.

A Florida circuit court agreed with the daughter and granted the motion to dismiss. The Third District largely upheld that decision on appeal. The appellate court noted that Florida judges use a four-part test to decide when to apply forum non conveniens. Essentially, these tests examine whether an “adequate alternative forum” exists to fairly resolve the underlying legal dispute. Here, the Third District said the trial court properly determined Colombia was an adequate alternative forum with respect to some of the wife’s allegations. But the Court also remanded some of the claims back to the Circuit Court with instructions to make a more specific determination.

Contact Florida Estate Litigation Lawyer Mark R. Manceri Today

Probate disputes often involve the interpretation and application of post-nuptial agreements. If you are involved in such a matter and need legal advice from a qualified Pompano Beach estate and trust litigation lawyer, contact the offices of Mark R. Manceri, P.A., today to schedule a consultation.



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