Why a Person’s “Domicile” Matters in a Florida Trust Dispute
A person’s domicile is where they live and consider their primary address. Domicile plays an important role in the estate and trust administration process. For example, when someone dies, their domicile determines where their probate estate will be administered.
Many people live in Florida without being legally domiciled here, in vice versa. If you spend 11 months out of the year living in New York, for instance, but spend a month’s vacation in a Florida timeshare each year, you are still legally domiciled in New York. So the mere fact that a person dies in Florida does not, in and of itself, establish domicile.
Disgruntled Beneficiary Sues Trust Settlor’s Attorney for Legal Malpractice
An ongoing federal lawsuit here in Florida, Nogara v. Lynn Law Office PC, illustrates just how critical domicile can be in certain kinds of legal disputes that may arise after a person’s death. This case involves a legal malpractice claim made by the beneficiary of a trust (the plaintiff) against the attorneys who prepared the original trust documents. The settlor of the trust died in 2020.
For most of his life, the settlor lived and was domiciled in Wabash, Indiana. He executed his living trust in Indiana in 2001. Starting around 2009-2010, the decedent started spending part of each year in Florida. Eventually, he spent more than six months each year in Florida.
In 2014, the settlor signed a restatement (amendment) to his 2001 trust. This restatement left 5 percent of the settlor’s gross estate to the plaintiff. A second restatement, signed in 2019, increased that share to 50 percent. A third and final restatement signed a month later granted the plaintiff 100 percent.
The settlor’s longtime Indiana lawyer prepared the trust and restatements. However, the second and third restatements were actually signed by the settlor in Florida. These restatements were not witnessed.
After the settlor died, his daughter filed suit in Florida probate court to invalidate the second and third restatements. She argued that her father was legally domiciled in Florida when he died. This mattered because Florida law requires trusts made by a Florida domiciliary to be witnessed. The judge agreed with the daughter that the settlor was domiciled in Florida at the time of his death. The court therefore invalidated the latter two restatements, meaning the plaintiff only received a 5 percent share of the trust’s assets as opposed to 100 percent.
The plaintiff then filed her lawsuit in federal court against the settlor’s Indiana lawyers. This lawsuit alleged the defendants were negligent in failing to draft the second and third restatements in accordance with Florida law. The federal judge overseeing the case denied the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment. But the judge also rejected a number of affirmative defenses raised by the defense. So the plaintiff’s lawsuit will proceed to trial.
Contact a Pompano Beach Validity of Trust Lawyer Today
While trusts are often sold as an alternative to bypass the complexities of probate, the reality is that legal disputes can still arise over the validity of a trust instrument. If you are involved in such a dispute and need legal advice from an experienced Pompano Beach estate and trust litigation attorney, contact the offices of Mark R. Manceri, P.A., today to schedule a consultation.