Decedent’s Estate Held Not To Be An Indispensable Party

An indispensable party is a party to a lawsuit whose participation in the lawsuit is required for both jurisdictional purposes and for rendering the judgment.  “Indispensable parties are necessary parties so essential to a suit that no final decision can be rendered without their joinder.” 

In a new appellate case from Florida, the court held that the estate was not an indispensable party in an attempt to void some inter vivos transfers, even though the estate would be the direct and immediate beneficiary from voiding such transfers. Parker v. Parker, (Fla. 4th DCA Feb. 3, 2016). 

Parker involved a lawsuit over seven inter vivos real estate conveyances by Decedent to Sean, his son (3) and Parkersquest LLC, an entity established that same day (4) which was founded and solely owned by Sean.  Decedent’s children from other marriages sued the Sean, Sean’s mother who was separated by still married to Decedent at the time of his death, and another child from that marriage.  The lawsuit included allegations of: “tortious interference with inheritance, unjust enrichment, and replevin to recover the properties as well as certain personal possessions and documents belonging to the decedent which were necessary to administer his estate.

Sean, his mother, and brother, moved to dismiss stating that the Decedent’s estate was not named but should have been because it was an indispensable party.  The trial court granted this motion to dismiss with prejudice.

On appeal, the Fourth District explained at length that challenges by Decedent’s children to set aside inter vivos conveyances based on undue influence allegations did not require that the estate be joined as a party to the suit.  The Court stated:

Florida courts have repeatedly permitted a decedent’s children to pursue claims to set aside inter vivos conveyances based upon allegations of undue influence, without requiring that the decedent’s estate be joined as a party to the suit. See Prat v. Carns, 85 So. 681, 682 (Fla. 1920) (entertaining suit brought by decedent’s sons to invalidate deeds executed by decedent prior to his death, on the grounds that they were obtained by undue influence); Mulato v. Mulato, 705 So. 2d 57, 59- 63 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997) (entertaining suit brought by son to invalidate deeds executed by decedent before her death, on the grounds that they were obtained by undue influence); Dunn v. White, 500 So. 2d 565, 566 (Fla. 2d DCA 1986) (permitting son to be substituted as plaintiff for father who died after filing suit to recover property allegedly conveyed as a result of undue influence); Omel v. Simpson, 386 So. 2d 2, 2 (Fla. 4th DCA 1980) (entertaining suit brought by decedent’s daughter to 4 challenge deed executed by decedent, on the grounds that it was obtained by undue influence); Barger v. Barger, 183 So. 2d 253, 253-54 (Fla. 2d DCA 1966) (permitting decedent’s son, who was the sole heir, devisee, and executor of decedent’s estate, to pursue action to set aside conveyance of real estate as the product of undue influence).

Other family members have also been permitted to challenge inter vivos transfers of property for undue influence without joining the decedent’s estate. See Bryant v. Bryant, 379 So. 2d 382, 383 (Fla. 1st DCA 1979) (entertaining suit by family member of unstated relation to cancel deed executed by decedent, on the basis of decedent’s alleged lack of capacity and a confidential relationship with the grantee); Wrobbel v. Walda, 217 So. 2d 340, 341 (Fla. 4th DCA 1968) (entertaining suit by decedent’s granddaughters to set aside gifts and transfers made by decedent on the grounds that they were the product of undue influence); Rowland v. McCall, 118 So. 2d 846, 847 (Fla. 2d DCA 1960) (entertaining suit by decedent’s sister to void deed on the grounds that decedent executed it as a result of undue influence).

In this case, the Decedent’s estate was not essential to the suit because the subject properties at issue were no longer part of Decedent’s estate at the time of Decedent’s death. The properties had already been conveyed inter vivos to Sean and Parkersquest, LLC.  The Fourth District reversed the trial court’s dismissal with prejudice for failure to join the estate as a party to the proceeding. 

Inheritance disputes come in all shapes and sizes.  There are challenges to Decedent’s will; trust contests regarding the validity of the trust, or an amendment, addendum, or restatement thereto; theft from a joint account; an improper beneficiary designation to a 401k or ERISA plan; or, any other pay-on-death designation or will substitute

What is important to remember however, is the procedural requirements in attempting such a challenge or contest.  It is not always the case that Decedent’s estate must be a party to a lawsuit.  Like in Parker, where the assets were no longer part of the Decedent’s estate at death.

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