Probate, trust, guardianship and inheritance litigation
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Evidence Required For Estate Related Expenses In Florida

By:  Jeffrey Skatoff, Esq.

It is not uncommon for people to seek reimbursement from an estate for expenses.  Every so often a case comes along that serves as a reminder that the rules of evidence still apply in Florida probate court, and evidence to support your claim for expenses is required.  Negedly v. Smith, from Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals, is one of those cases.

Seeking Reimbursement From A Florida Estate

In this probate case, Mary Smith entered into a payor agreement with a rehabilitation center for the care of Gregory Smith.  After Gregory died, the rehabilitation center sought to enforce the agreement and sued Mary for unpaid medical expenses.  Eventually the rehabilitation center and Mary settled the lawsuit for $15,000.  As part of the settlement, the rehabilitation center assigned its claim to Mary.  Mary then filed a creditor claim in Gregory’s probate estate, seeking reimbursement for the full amount of medical expenses incurred by the rehabilitation center.  Read the Complete Guide to Florida Creditor Claims for more information.

The probate court held an evidentiary hearing, and found that Mary was entitled, under the assignment, to recover the total amount of the rehabilitation center’s claim for Mr. Smith’s medical care.  The probate court entered an order reflecting the total amount of medical expenses as detailed in the rehabilitation center’s billing history attached to her complaint.

The personal representative of the estate appealed the order, arguing that competent, substantial evidence did not support the amount of medical expenses the probate court awarded to Mary.

The Florida appellate court agreed with the personal representative.

In What Order Are Expenses Paid From An Estate?

The Florida probate court properly analyzed the claims under section 733.707, Florida Statutes.  Section 733.707 sets forth the order of payment of expenses and obligations payable from decedent’s estate and states as follows:

(1) The personal representative shall pay the expenses of the administration and obligations of the decedent’s estate in the following order:

(a) Class 1.—Costs, expenses of administration, and compensation of personal representatives and their attorneys fees and attorneys fees awarded under s. 733.106(3).

(b) Class 2.—Reasonable funeral, interment, and grave marker expenses, whether paid by a guardian, the personal representative, or any other person, not to exceed the aggregate of $6,000.

(c) Class 3.—Debts and taxes with preference under federal law, claims pursuant to ss. 409.9101 and 414.28, and claims in favor of the state for unpaid court costs, fees, or fines.

(d) Class 4.—Reasonable and necessary medical and hospital expenses of the last 60 days of the last illness of the decedent, including compensation of persons attending the decedent.

(e) Class 5.—Family allowance.

(f) Class 6.—Arrearage from court-ordered child support.

(g) Class 7.—Debts acquired after death by the continuation of the decedent’s business, in accordance with s. 733.612(22), but only to the extent of the assets of that business.

(h) Class 8.—All other claims, including those founded on judgments or decrees rendered against the decedent during the decedent’s lifetime, and any excess over the sums allowed in paragraphs (b) and (d).

Even though the Florida probate court properly analyzed Mary’s claim under subsections (d) and (h), the Florida probate court did not have competent, substantial evidence before it to award Mary the entire amount of her requested expenses.

Is Evidence Required To Support A Claim For Florida Estate Related Expenses?

Yes, evidence is required to support a claim for reimbursement of expenses from a Florida estate.  Here, Mary testified that she “resolved the rehabilitation center’s claim for $15,000.”  The mediation settlement agreement wherein the rehabilitation center assigned its claim to Mary was also properly admitted.  However, Mary never admitted the billing history submitting the total amount of her claim into evidence.  The billing history was merely attached Mary’s complaint.  But an attachment to a complaint or petition is not evidence.

This case is a reminder that the rules of evidence apply in Florida probate court.  Seeking reimbursement of expenses from a probate estate requires properly authenticated evidence that is admissible (and actually admitted) to support the requested amount of expenses from the Florida probate estate.

Jeffrey Skatoff is a Florida probate attorney.  To have Mr. Skatoff review your case free of charge, please go to his website.

Probate attorney Jeffrey Skatoff handles probate, trust, guardianship and inheritance litigation.

Jeffrey H. Skatoff, Esq.

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