Filing a Will Caveat

August 28, 2012

florida-case-law.jpgWill caveats: one more reason why hiring an attorney is a good idea for estate planning. Will caveats are, basically, objections to a will. For example, let's say Father dies, leaving his entire estate to his niece. That is awfully nice of him, but it probably won't make his two children happy. Taking it a step further, let's say Father had dementia when he died. Niece had moved in with him claiming she was going to take care of him, but the circumstances suggest she was just trying to dig for a little bit of gold from his estate. Now that Father has died, it looks like Niece's plan has worked. What are Father's children's options?

They can bring a will caveat action, effectively putting the will's probate on hold until the issues are resolved. Essentially, a caveat allows the interested party the ability to present evidence that something about the will makes it legally inoperable, and once a caveat is filed, the interested party must be allowed to present the evidence.

This was highlighted in a recent case, Rocca v. Boyansky, in which the court held that a party who made several late filings in court was nevertheless entitled to an evidentiary hearing before the will went to probate.

In Rocca, Mr. Rocca filed a caveat and was told he needed to respond 20 days after a certain date. He did not respond by that time, and the court granted him more time. He still didn't respond to the new date, but instead filed a motion about a week after the deadline had passed. The court, obviously frustrated, went ahead and brought the will to probate, concluding that Mr. Rocca had conceded his argument by failing to timely respond when twice asked to do so.

Fortunately for Mr. Rocca, the appellate court disagreed with the trial court. Instead of being a statute mandating certain time requirements, the statute governing caveats is not a statute of limitations. It is a statute that requires a hearing. The lower court was frustrated with Mr. Rocca, and rightfully so. He had delayed the court twice. Courts are busy, and it is never a good idea to do anything that would upset them. Yet, here was Mr. Rocca, doing probably the one thing that upsets courts most: making them reschedule. Nevertheless, the statute requires the court to reschedule in such a situation. The party filing the caveat has the right to a hearing.

At the end of the day, Mr. Rocca was able to present his evidence. But it should be noted that this case has been through litigation for several years, and it is unclear when it will stop. Had the decedent used an attorney when making his will, the caveat likely would not have been filed because the will would have been properly executed. It is very important that you contact an estate planning lawyer before taking any actions. Whether it's creating a will or challenging one in probate, a qualified attorney can help you get through the process.