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Florida Probate: What is a Caveat?

December 3, 2020 CSBB Blog

A caveat is the written notice—filed with the Florida probate court—that requires the clerk to give the caveator (the person filing the caveat) notice if a probate is opened for the person who is named in the caveat. 

If you are concerned that a Florida probate will be commenced without notice to you, you are encouraged to file a caveat in the Florida county where that person died.

Stated differently, if you believe you are a beneficiary of an estate, or possibly may have been disinherited by a deathbed or late-in-life document, a caveat can be a useful tool to prevent a will from getting admitted to probate without notice to you.

Imagine, for example, a Mother previously executed a will devising her estate equally to her Son and Daughter. Shortly before death, when Mother was under hospice care and lacking executive function, Son procured a will that purported to leave the entire estate to Son thereby disinheriting Daughter.  In filing a caveat, Daughter would be provided notice when Son seeks to admit the later will to probate; Daughter can then object to that will’s admission.

Fla. Prob. R. 5.260(f) provides, in part:

After the filing of a caveat by an interested person other than a creditor, the court must not admit a will of the decedent to probate or appoint a personal representative without service of formal notice on the caveator or the caveator’s designated agent.

Whether you are a creditor or potentially a beneficiary of an estate a caveat can be a helpful tool. A creditor, for example, may utilize a caveat to avoid the manual process of frequently checking the probate docket to see if an estate has been opened for a debtor. With the caveat, the creditor will receive notice when the estate is opened in the decedent’s name, affording the creditor the opportunity to take the action(s) necessary to collect the debt from the estate.

Do I have to wait until decedent’s death to file a caveat?

It depends.  A creditor cannot file a caveat while its debtor is alive. An interested person, other than a creditor, may file a caveat before or after the decedent’s death. See, Fla. Prob. R. 5.260(a).

A creditor should be mindful that a probate estate may never be opened.  A caveat is not the only action that should be considered by a creditor to collect on a debt.  

What information must be included in the caveat?

Fla. Prob. R. 5.260(b) states that the caveat shall contain:

  • The name of the person for whom the estate will be/is being administered (the decedent);
  • Last 4 of decedent’s social security number or date of birth;
  • A statement of interest of the caveator in the estate; and,
  • Specific mailing address of the caveator.

As mentioned above, there are many benefits to filing a caveat. When a caveator is able to object to a purported will before a petition for administration is heard, the caveator has prevented the appointment of the personal representative and possibly preventing the use of estate assets to fund the will contest.  The bad actor may also be prevented from gaining access to the decedent’s records prior to the will contest because letters of administration have not yet been issued. The caveator is on a better footing regarding access to information than he or she would be had the bad actor been appointed personal representative.

A potential beneficiary—whether through a prior document or intestacy—is able to preserve their rights to object to a deathbed will by filing the caveat before the decedent’s death.

If you believe you may have been improperly cut out of a will or deprived of your inheritance, please call the probate lawyers at Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun, LLP at (561) 626-2101 or toll free (800) 226-1484 for a free consultation about your potential will contest, trust, or estate dispute.

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