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Florida judge grants gay widower probate litigation win

A Palm Beach judge recently ruled against Florida’s gay marriage ban by allowing a man to serve as the personal representative of his husband’s estate. The Pennsylvania couple had been together for 37 years before marrying in Delaware in 2013. In 2008, they decided to buy a South Florida home. For financial reasons, only one of the men’s names was put on the mortgage.

When he died suddenly, though, his widower needed to open probate in Florida to transfer the property. Under the decedent’s will, his spouse was named the personal representative and sole beneficiary of his estate. Nevertheless, Florida’s gay marriage ban had implications which would have prevented the spouse from serving as his husband’s personal representative. Probate litigation ensued.

While anyone may serve as a personal representative (PR) for a Florida resident, only a spouse or blood relative may serve as PR for a non-resident’s estate. Since the man was not technicality a spouse under Florida law, he was not initially allowed to serve as personal representative. The probate judge, however, issued an order allowing the man to serve as PR. Her ruling is limited to the facts of that case.

While the decision has gotten people talking about Florida’s gay marriage ban, it is equally as intriguing for probate purposes. Individuals need to plan for what happens to their estate when they pass. Though this may be easy for some, those in second marriages or those in a committed but unmarried relationship may be surprised what happens to their assets if proper procedures are not followed.

Local Lee estate planning lawyers can help residents and non-residents prepare for the disposition of their assets. Simple planning can help loved ones avoid court battles and legal disputes which can sour family relations.

Source: Miami Herald, “Florida must recognize gay widower’s Delaware marriage, Palm Beach judge rules,” Steve Rathaus, Aug. 5, 2014

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