Probate, trust, guardianship and inheritance litigation
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Caveats in Florida Probate Court

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What is a Caveat in Florida Probate Court?

A caveat in Florida probate court is a legal document filed with the probate court to provide notice to the court that there is an interested party who wants to be notified if an estate is opened. A caveat allows a beneficiary or creditor to receive notice of a petition for administration without having to open a probate administration themselves.

A caveat filed with the Florida probate court protects an estate beneficiary or creditor by notifying them if a probate estate is opened.

Essentially, a caveat prevents a nominated personal representative from opening a probate estate without notifying the person who filed the caveat. This is especially helpful where one party may be in possession of the will, but where there are other interested parties who are not in communication with the nominated personal representative or who do not have any information on whether the decedent even had a will.

Who Can File a Caveat?

Either a potential beneficiary or creditor may file a caveat. While a creditor must wait until after someone passes away, a potential beneficiary may file a caveat prior to the death of an individual. For guidance on filing a caveat see Fla. Stat. 731.110 and Fla. Prob. R. 5.260.

Why Should You File A Caveat in Florida Probate Court?

A caveat is necessary because a person nominated as Personal Representative in a will can admit the will to probate in Florida without prior notice to other interested persons. See Fla. Prob. R. 5.201.

Prevent The Appointment of A Personal Representative

By filing a caveat prior to the petition for administration, a beneficiary can prevent the nominated personal representative from being appointed and a will from being admitted to probate without formal notice of the petition for administration. This allows an opportunity for the person filing the caveat to object to the petition for administration (thus allowing for the ability to contest a will and the appointment of the named personal representative) prior to the court appointing the nominated personal representative in the will. This also eliminates the need for filing a petition to remove the personal representative after they have already been appointed by the court.

Prevent Estate Assets From Being Used To Fund The Defense Of A Will Contest

By having the fight before the petition for administration is heard, this will usually prevent the nominated personal representative from using estate funds to fight the will contest. It can also prevent the nominated personal representative from obtaining access to all the records of the decedent prior to the will contest, which may give the nominated personal representative an advantage over other parties.

Prevent Untrustworthy Beneficiaries From Gaining An Advantage

In addition, a caveat also prevents untrustworthy beneficiaries from making misrepresentations to the court without a chance for the person who filed the caveat to contest the will prior to the admission of the will to probate.

Win The Race to the Courthouse Before It Starts

One scenario where a caveat is extremely helpful if filed prior to death, is in the case of a person procuring a deathbed will by undue influence who then rushes to the courthouse to be appointed personal representative ex-parte.  By filing a caveat, a potential beneficiary can preserve their right to challenge the will and the appointment of the person named in the deathbed will prior to them being appointed as personal representative by the court.

Protect Your Rights As a Creditor

Additionally, creditors often file caveats to ensure they receive notice when a probate is opened, to ensure that they can timely file a claim against the estate to recover any monies owed.  Read The Complete Guide To Creditor Claims In Florida Probate.

Litigation Involving Caveats

In Platt v. Osteen, Platt, a beneficiary under decedent Martin S. Day’s will, appealed an order admitting Day’s Will to probate and appointing Sharon Day Osteen as personal representative.

The sequence of events occurred as follows:  Osteen filed a petition for administration of Day’s Will.  Platt filed a caveat.  Platt was now a caveator entitled to notice.  Platt also filed  an answer and objection to administration of the Will.  Next, without notice to Platt, the Florida probate court entered an order admitting Day’s Will to probate, erroneously finding that no objection had been made.

Platt appealed the order admitting the Will and appointing Osteen as personal representative.   Platt asserted that his rights as a caveator were violated.  The Florida appellate court reversed the probate court’s order, finding that the Florida probate court was required to determine whether Platt had standing to contest the will, and, if so, to adjudicate Platt’s challenge to the will before taking any action on the petition for administration.  In so ruling, the Florida appellate court, citing a Florida treatise, stated:

After the filing of a caveat by an interested person other than a creditor, the court may not admit a will of the decedent to probate or appoint a personal representative without service of formal notice on the caveator or the caveator’s designated agent.  [Fla. Prob. R. 5.260(f).]  Thus, if a caveat is filed, a formal notice of the submission of a will for probate must be given, and the court must thereafter adjudicate any challenge to the will before admitting the will to probate.