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Woman sues clerk of court over access to probate assets

An out-of-state lawsuit has been filed by a woman who was removed as administrator of her husband's estate by the clerk of court there. It appears that the estate contained assets of property and bank accounts in Florida. The woman's husband died intestate, meaning without a will, in 2012. After his death the woman was granted letters of administration, and requested that all the probate assets be transferred to her as she and her son needed over $330,000 in immediate assistance from the probate court.

A year later the clerk of court removed the woman as administrator of the estate. His reasoning was that the woman had a private interest in the estate and could not distribute it fairly. The clerk pointed to alleged statements by the woman that she would not pay the funeral expenses for her husband, and did not want to distribute assets to her son, as she feared he would not spend it wisely. The woman denied making such statements and has filed a civil suit requesting damages and injunctive relief against the clerk.

As many residents of Florida know, it is important to have an estate plan in place before one's death, to avoid, as far as possible, disputes between heirs and the government over the distribution of assets from the deceased. A good estate plan will appoint a trusted individual to administer the estate, and delineate specifically which heirs are to receive which assets. It may also be a good idea to set up a trust, especially in cases where a testator wants to limit the spending of an heir that may be financially irresponsible.

By establishing a good estate plan, the testator can ensure that his or her wishes are met as regards to the assets involved. Further, sometimes probate can be avoided, and the estate much more efficiently distributed with fewer losses to the corpus of the estate in the form of fees and costs.

A good plan also goes a long way to diminishing the chances that litigation will be necessary after the testator's death. Such litigation can prove very expensive and disruptive to the loved ones of the testator, and cause bad feelings all around. It is therefore essential that Floridians establish get good advice on establishing an estate plan as soon as possible.

Source: thetimesnews.com, "Lawsuit filed against Clerk of Superior Court," Michael Abernethy, May 19, 2013

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