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How Florida Courts Interpret Wills and Trusts

Uncategorized Aug 31, 2013

Florida has its fair share of will contests and trust disputes, where beneficiaries and family members do “battle” over what a trust or will says.   There are two important rules when considering whether to initiate probate litigation, or to file a lawsuit regarding a trust or will. First, a court is going to do its very best to interpret, or construe, a will by trying to learn the intent of the person who created the trust or will.  Courts often say:  “In construing a will, the polestar for the court is the intent of the testator. The testator’s intent is to be measured by the language he selected and used by looking at the entire instrument, not isolated words, clauses or paragraphs…. We give greater weight to the stated chosen words of the testator as opposed to the unstated words or silence on the part of the testator…….[t]he law of wills is calculated to avoid speculation as to the testator’s intent and to concentrate upon what he said rather than what he might, or should, have wanted to say.”  See Grant v. Bessemer Trust decided July 3, 2013 by the  (Florida) 4th District Court of Appeals. Secondly, great deference is given to trial courts, by appellate courts, should the losing side appeal.  The trial court will make findings of fact and then apply the law to those facts.  If those findings are based on competent substantial evidence, the likelihood of a losing party winning on appeal is not likely, unless the trial court mis-applied the law.  Therefore, consider the intent of the person who created the trust or will, as expressed in the document, and then be prepared for trial.  Advocate hard. Litigate smart.