Popp ex rel. Estate of Davis v. Rex, 2005 WL 3299727, 30 Fla. L. Weekly D2760 (Fla. 4th DCA Dec 07, 2005) I’ve written before (see here) on how challenging it can be for attorneys drafting estate-planning documents to cover every issue that possibly could come up decades in the future when the document is put to the test in a probate-related dispute. Even minor mistakes/omissions can morph into years of probate litigation. Well, that’s exactly what happened in this case. The case involves the reformation of the Virginia F. Davis 1986 Irrevocable Trust (the “1986 trust”), which provided that when Mrs. Davis died it would be divided in half with one share for each of her two sons and each son’s share would be distributed in three installments-one immediately, one five years later, and the last one five years after that. Mrs. Davis died on November 2, 2000, predeceased by her husband (i.e., about 14 years after the 1986 trust was signed). The litigation in question arose in the context of probate-administration proceedings involving one of Mrs. Davis’ children, Scott F. Davis, who died without issue on November 19, 2002 (i.e., about 16 years after the 1986 trust was signed) – having received only one of the three installment payments he was originally entitled to under the 1986 trust. Under Mr. Davis’ will, the residuary beneficiaries of his estate were the Pittsburgh State University Foundation, Inc. and the WPBT Communications Foundation, Inc. According to the Fourth DCA, the 1986 trust contained the following drafting error:

The 1986 trust, as a result of a drafting error, omitted instructions as to what would happen if one of the sons died without children before he had received his installment payments. The trust provisions expressly covered what would happen if a son died with children (providing that the unpaid installments would go to those children) but stopped without going to the next step, directing where the unpaid installments should go if a son had no issue. (Emphasis added.)

Based on the following evidence, Palm Beach County Judge Gary L. Vonhof entered a final judgment reforming the 1986 trust so that the share of a deceased son without issue would go to the other son:

  • Testimony of drafting attorney in favor of the requested trust reformation;
  • Testimony of a financial advisor who worked with Mrs. Davis in connection with creating the 1986 trust, also in favor of the requested trust reformation; and
  • The text of a comparable, but separate, revocable trust established by Mrs. Davis that provided that in the event one of her two sons died without issue, his share was to go to her other son.

The Fourth DCA upheld the trial court’s ruling, based on the following:

When this court previously decided [Davis v. Rex, 876 So.2d 609 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004)], we sent the case back to the trial court to determine if the trust should be reformed. We held, citing In re Estate of Robinson, 720 So.2d 540, 543 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998), “that a trust with testamentary aspects may be reformed after the death of the settlor for a unilateral drafting mistake so long as reformation is not contrary to the interest of the settlor.” Davis, 876 So.2d at 611. This mistake must be shown by clear and convincing evidence. Robinson, 720 So.2d at 542.