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Text Messages in Florida Lawsuits + Litigation

Uncategorized Mar 3, 2021
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Are those text messages that everyone sends and receives “discoverable” in your Florida litigation? In 2021, text message admissibility is important ! Maybe…………..maybe not! Whether those text messages in Florida lawsuits can be admitted into evidence is an entirely different question! Afterall, once your trial lawyer gets over the “relevance” hurdle, she has to lay a foundation and get those out-of-court statements in over an anticipated/expected “hearsay!” objection from your opposing counsel. A recent case from Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal discusses text messages in Florida lawsuits, as well as Florida evidence and the authentication and admissibility of data and documents. Florida Evidence & Text Messages Has your Florida probate lawyer asked you about e-discovery? Maybe she told you to preserve all evidence and to retain all laptops, iPhones, cell phones, iPads, tablets, computers, text messages and emails. Oh, yes, she probably also told you to suspend any “self deleting” mechanisms on your electronic devices. Oh, yes, and I’m sure he instructed you not to delete any communications and documents, either. After all, you don’t want to lose any of that data which you are going to be COMPELLED to produce in your Florida lawsuit. Very good ! Great start! Now, let’s say that the other side to your Florida litigation has text messages to use against you. One question which I know your lawyer has asked you is about text message admissibility: Are your text messages admissible in your Florida lawsuit? A recent, September, 2020, Florida appellate opinion […]

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Fraud on the Court: “Everything” You Need to Know

Uncategorized Mar 2, 2021
post about Fraud on the Court: “Everything” You Need to Know

Two recent opinions from Florida appellate courts tell you everything you need to know about Fraud on the Court in Florida (almost !). Although we have provided free commentary + legal videos on this issue before, these two new opinions are helpful & instructive. What is Fraud on the Court? Fraud on the court “occurs where it can be demonstrated, clearly and convincingly, that a party has sentiently set in motion some unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system’s ability impartially to adjudicate a matter by improperly influencing the trier of act or unfairly hampering the presentation of the opposing party’s claim or defense.” That quote is from the Florida Appeals Court in Palm Beach, also known as the Fourth District Court of Appeal. That case was Amato v. Intindola, 854 So. 2d 812, 814 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003) (quoting Cox v. Burke, 706 So. 2d 43, 46 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998)). Want to read more about Fraud on the Court from the 4th DCA? Check out this January 6, 2021 opinion in the case of Gleman vs. MWH Americas, Inc. The Gleman opinion also discusses what a sham pleading is under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.150. What Can A Florida Court Do ? A Florida Court has the discretion to dismiss a party’s pleadings based upon fraudulent conduct. Cherubino v. Fenstersheib and Fox, P.A., 925 So. 2d 1066, 1068 (Fla. 4th DCA, 2006). “A trial court possesses the discretion to dismiss a complaint [or strike a […]

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NetFlix I Care a Lot & Florida Guardianships

Uncategorized Mar 1, 2021
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In Florida, guardianship business is booming — for good or for ill. Every week, perhaps every day, family members are asking a Florida Probate Court to declare an adult “incapacitated” or “incompetent“, remove or limit their rights and powers to act alone, and appoint a Guardian. Many times, a guardianship means that you limit access to one’s money !! We have written about “contested” Florida guardianships before, where family members duel over controlling a parent or their purse. Now, Netflix has a popular and new 2021 comedy, crime thriller called “I Care a Lot.” Will this popular streaming movie shed light on financial exploitation and financial abuse? Although it’s fiction, I Care a Lot is getting a lot of attention from people involved in Florida guardianships. I Care a Lot + Guardianships Florida guardianship law is found in Florida Statutes Chapter 744. This explains the entire Florida guardianship process. How do you start a guardianship? (file a petition). What if there is a Power of Attorney (consider lesser restrictive alternatives to a guardianship). “There’s actually two cases you need to start a Florida guardianship” says guardianship litigator John Pankauski. “You file a mental health case which suggests that a Florida resident is not competent and needs some protection and assistance” says Pankauski. “Then, who is going to provide that protection and assistance? You need a guardianship matter.” Pankauski should know. He leads a boutique law firm in Palm Beach which restricts its practice to so-called “probate litigation” which typically means […]

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Florida TOD Accounts + Federal Court

Uncategorized Feb 15, 2021
post about Florida TOD Accounts + Federal Court

Were you supposed to inherit a Florida TOD account from a bank or financial company? Is the probate executor making a claim to your Florida TOD account? This recent federal case on Florida TOD accounts may prove helpful to understanding your rights. If you still have questions, be sure to find a litigation law firm that has experience trying TOD and pay on death cases, as well as handling TOD appeals. Federal Case Sheds Light on Florida TOD Accounts + Federal Court While most Florida probate lawyers only practice in state court, there are some expert probate litigators who also handle federal court cases in Florida. Just ask John Pankauski, Managing Member of the boutique firm Pankauski Hauser Lazarus PLLC. “We have a federal court trial in March of 2021 in the Middle District of Florida . 2020 was very busy for us in Federal Court in Florida. We had a few matters in the USDC Southern District of Florida.” Pankauski should know. After all, TOD accounts and pay on death bank accounts are a unique area of the law. “Look out for so called ‘probate’ lawyers who say they go to court, but who actually never try a case” warns Pankauski. “Don’t get me wrong. Mediation and settlement may make a lot of sense, but they are not for everyone.” he continues. “There are a lot of Florida probate lawyers who just want you to settle everything.” Well, needless to say, that’s not him. Florida TOD Accounts + Federal […]

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How does a Florida TOD account work in Florida?

Uncategorized Feb 14, 2021
post about How does a Florida TOD account work in Florida?

A Florida TOD account is supposed to transfer the account, typically a bank or financial account, to the surviving owner. If transfer on death is so “easy”, why are so many family members and executors having a probate dispute over them? The owners are generally those whose names appear on the TOD account title. That’s why probate litigation law firms issue subpoenas under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.350 to attempt to obtain complete bank records. But, it is possible that the named beneficiary of the Florida TOD account does NOT inherit. To learn how a transfer on death account for a Florida bank account can go to probate or the estate, read on. What is a Florida Convenience Account? A Florida Convenience account is one of those things that is not what it says it is, jokes John Pankauski, Managing Partner of Pankauski Hauser Lazarus PLLC, an expert probate litigation law firm. And Pankauski should know. After all, unlike most “probate” lawyers, he has actually won bank account trials and also handles TOD and pay on death appeals. You can read more about convenience accounts at Fla. Stat. 655.80, which can cause a probate court to ignore the survivorship feature of the Florida TOD account, and give it to the estate, where it can be subject to creditors and expenses of administration. (See Fla. Stat. 733.707 for the schedule of payment of expenses of administration and creditors claims, including attorneys fees). Florida TOD Bank Account Trials “Be cautious” warns […]

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What does TOD mean?

Uncategorized Feb 13, 2021
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What does TOD mean to heirs, family members and Florida probate beneficiaries? TOD, or transfer on death, is a way that Florida residents pass millions and millions of dollars, automatically, without probate. Sometimes ! We have previously written about this pay on death will substitute and posted a number of Free TOD and Pay on Death Videos to help you understand beneficiary rights and inheritance rights for Florida TOD accounts. In short, TOD means “transfer on death” and generally gives the other name on the bank account 100% ownership when the other (or first) owner dies. Something so easy has never created more TOD lawsuits about Florida bank accounts, both in federal and state court. If you think you are entitled to a TOD account, consider reading three things that will tell you (almost !) all you want to know about Florida TOD accounts. And, it will answer the question: What does TOD mean in Florida? Everything You Want to Know About TOD Bank Accounts in Florida To learn all about TOD accounts in Florida, consider reading three things. First read the Florida TOD Law which tells you about pay on death accounts and bank accounts when there are two or more names. You may also hear the term “totten trust” or “POD” or pay-on-death. That’s Florida Statutes 655.78- 655.825. Second, there are two good TOD opinions from Florida’s appeals courts which will tell you a lot. Consider reading Keul v. Hodges Blvd Presbyterian Church, a 2015 Florida appeals court […]

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Jeffrey Epstein and GRATs

Uncategorized Feb 13, 2021
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Jeffrey Epstein was back in the news in 2021, this time regarding a unique and sophisticated estate planning technique called a GRAT. We had previously provided insight on Jeffrey Epstein’s estate and potential creditors of the now deceased Palm Beach resident. So, what is a GRAT and why are Florida families and trustees litigating about these Florida trusts? What is a Florida GRAT? What is a Florida GRAT? GRAT is short for Grantor Retained Annuity Trust. “It’s a fantastic, low risk estate planning technique that can literally save millions, even billions, in estate taxes if done correctly” says Palm Beach trust litigator John Pankauski. And Pankauski should know. After all, he was reading the IRS federal regulations on GRATs back in the early 90’s and writing them for wealthy clients over 20 years ago. Today, he doesn’t write or draft GRATs. He and the handful of expert litigators at his firm now only litigate and handle appeals for GRATs. Jeffrey Epstein GRATs With a GRAT, the creator, or settlor of a special trust irrevocably transfers property to her trustee. The grantor of the GRAT retains, or keeps, an annuity stream for a fixed term–such as a number of years. With a properly drafted or written GRAT, and the right family asset and a good appraiser, the amount that is transferred for federal gift tax (or estate tax) purposes can be very small — sometimes even zero. That technique is referred to as “zero-ing out a GRAT.” So, what is the […]

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Britney Spears Guardianship — removing your guardian

Uncategorized Feb 13, 2021
post about Britney Spears Guardianship — removing your guardian

The conservatorship of Britney Spears is in the news again. You may have read some of our blogs on Britney Spears and Florida guardianships in the past. After all, Pankauski Hauser Lazarus is one of the few boutique litigation law firms that restricts its practice to Florida guardianship trials. Let’s discuss a very recent update on the guardianship of Britney Spears, first reported in the New York Times. ( February 9, 2021: Britney Spears Conservatorship Case Heads Back to Court). Why do Florida families care about the Britney Spears Guardianship? What if Britney Spears Guardianship Was in Florida? Some states refer to an adult guardianship as a “conservatorship.” In Florida, most probate divisions of the Circuit Courts exclusively handle all guardianships. And, remember, Florida guardianships are not just for minors or those people who are under 18. “For good or for ill, guardianship lawsuits have increased in the 25+ years that I’ve been admitted to practice law in Florida.” says John Pankauski, Managing Member of Pankauski Hauser Lazarus, a boutique guardianship and probate litigation law firm. Well if the Britney Spears Guardianship was in Florida and not California, the Florida Guardianship Code would apply. Changing Your Guardian in the Guardianship Court In Florida, the “guardianship court” is actually the Probate Division of the judicial circuit where the alleged incapacitated person, or “ward”, resides. Probate courts have exclusive jurisdiction over Florida estates, Florida guardianships and most of the time Florida trusts. In the case of the Britney Spears Guardianship, Ms. Spears […]

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Miami Probate Lawyers Zoom to Courthouse

Uncategorized Jan 20, 2021
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Wondering how Miami probate lawyers are helping clients in 2021 during the pandemic? Not to worry. While in-person appearances are rare in the Miami Dade probate court today, Miami probate lawyers may attend court hearings from their office. All they need to do is Zoom ! Florida Probate Courts Adjust to Law In a Pandemic Probate courts in Florida are probably some of the busiest in the nation ! After all, Florida is a large state, filled with wealthy residents. People continue to retire and move to the Sunshine State. Not only do Florida probate courts handle estates of deceased residents, but they also handle trust lawsuits and guardianships. Lots of work. So, you may be wondering how work can get done on a Florida estate or trust during the Covid-19 pandemic. Well, Florida courts, including the Miami probate court, have adjusted very well, and very quickly. One way that Miami probate lawyers have continued to help their clients with estates, probates and trusts is by attending hearings by Zoom. Yes, even though most probate courts have limited in-person appearances, many probate court judges in Miami Dade County permit hearings via Zoom— a videoconference, online platform that permits hearings, testimony, witnesses and the presentation of documents and other evidence. For free Miami Dade probate forms, click here: Zoom Video Conferences in Miami Probates And while Miami probate lawyers are content to attend court hearings via their computer, probate litigators are still going to court for in-person trials. “I had two, […]

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Prenup Trials in Florida Probates

Uncategorized Jan 18, 2021
post about Prenup Trials in Florida Probates

Prenup trials are not always during life. That’s right, many times heirs and the personal representative of a Florida probate will have a prenup trial about the validity or terms of a prenuptial agreement. A December 18, 2020 opinion on prenup trials from Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal https://www.5dca.org/ dealing with summary judgment reminds Florida probate lawyers about interpreting a prenup. How Do You Interpret Florida Prenups? The case of Baldwin v. Harris https://www.5dca.org/content/download/695652/opinion/192791_DC08_12182020_084856_i.pdf reminds probate lawyers in Florida how to interpret prenuptial agreements. Is a Florida prenup valid? Well, a prenuptial agreement in Florida is interpreted like a contract — because it is a contract. If a contract or prenuptial agreement is clear and unambiguous, it must be read without any testimony or other evidence — often referred to by Florida probate litigators as “parole” or “extrinsic” evidence. In that case, the Florida probate judge simply reads the prenup and tells you what it says. Getting What You Are Owed. Prenups can create obligations which can only be satisfied in a Florida probate. How? Well, some prenups provide for a distribution or inheritance to the other spouse upon death. Remember: Florida prenups may be effective upon divorce or death. If you are owed something when your spouse passed away, you may have to go to probate if the Personal Representative of the Estate, or the Trustee of the decedent’s Revocable Trust, won’t pay. Do you know how to navigate those legal waters to try to avoid a prenup […]

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