Often times non-probate practitioners are unaware of what to do to protect their client’s rights when a party to a pending action passes away. Many such practitioners do not know that it is often necessary to file a creditor claim in the deceased party’s estate to protect any damages or judgment their client might be awarded. Although filing a creditor claim was ultimately not necessary in this case, it is prudent to file a creditor claim to make sure your client’s rights are protected.
In Passamondi v. Passamondi, (2nd DCA 2014), Mr. and Mrs. Passamondi filed for divorce. Mr. Passamondi requested that the divorce proceedings be bifurcated, because Mr. Passamondi was suffering from a terminal illness and presumably wanted a final judgment of divorce entered sooner rather than later, even if it meant other issues such as distribution of property would determined after entry of the judgment of divorce.
A final judgment of divorce was entered on May 24, 2006. The final judgment “reserved jurisdiction over this cause and each of the parties to enter such further Orders, Judgments, and Decrees as may be necessary at any time in the future to resolve all equitable distribution issues and any other issues which have been pled.”
Mr. Passamondi died in July 2006. The former wife filed a creditor claim in Mr. Passomondi’s Florida probate estate. The basis for the former wife’s claim was an “undetermined marital interest in all of the real, personal and intangible property of decedent preceding his death as so determined in” the pending dissolution of marriage proceeding.
The former wife also filed a supplemental petition for relief in the dissolution of marriage proceeding against Mr. Passamondi’s estate and his three children.
Four years passed. A final hearing was set in the dissolution proceeding for October 2011. In the meantime, the probate proceedings were terminated in May 2011.
When the parties appeared for final hearing in the dissolution proceeding, the court declined to hear and determine the remaining issues, ruling that Mr. Passamondi’s death and opening of Mr. Passamondi’s estate vested the probate court with “exclusive jurisdiction to determine the proper manner of distribution of the Former Husband’s assets after payment of all creditors of the Estate of which the Former Wife was one…” The trial court dismissed the former’s wife’s claims.
The Florida appellate court reversed the ruling of the trial court, stating:
If a trial court bifurcates a proceeding for dissolution of marriage by entering a judgment dissolving the marriage but retaining jurisdiction to determine property issues, the subsequent death of a party does not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction to determine the issues reserved.