Janien v. Janien, 2006 WL 2956304 (Fla. 4th DCA Oct 18, 2006)

Under Florida law a surviving widow or widower is entitled to at least 30% of the decedent spouse’s estate.  If done properly, an “elective share trust” allows a person to satisfy his or her surviving spouse’s elective share rights, while still retaining the right to say what happens to the elective-share assets when the surviving spouse dies.   This planning device  can be especially useful  where a person wants to provide for a second  wife or husband, but make sure the family assets go back to his or her children when the surviving spouse dies.

No productive-property clause = failed elective share trust:

The issue in this case was whether the following clause created an elective share trust within the meaning of F.S. 732.2025(2).  The drafting attorney who prepared this instrument testified that at the time he did the drafting he’d never heard of an elective share trust.  So the question was did the decedent “accidentally” get it right?

ARTICLE SECOND: If my husband, Cedric Janien, survives me:

A. I devise and bequeath my beneficial interest in the North Chatham Realty Trust, together with all furniture, fixtures, antiques and other items of personal property in said residence, to my Trustee, with the right in my husband to exclusively live in and occupy such residence for the period of his life, and provided that he is financially able to do so, he shall be responsible for all maintenance charges and taxes assessed against the residence during his lifetime. If he does not have the financial ability to pay such expenses and taxes, them my Trustee is authorized and is directed to mortgage the premises for the purpose of paying such maintenance charges and taxes.

The trial court ruled this trust did NOT qualify as an elective share trust.  The 4th DCA agreed, providing the following valuable guidance:

First, Article Second (A) fails to satisfy the requirement of section 732.2025(2)(a), because .  .  .  Cedric is entitled neither to the “use” of the property within the meaning of the statute, nor to “income” derived from the property.

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Article Second (A) created something less than a life estate in the Massachusetts property.

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We also hold that Article Second (A) does not satisfy the requirements of section 732.2025(2)(b). That section requires that the purported elective share trust be “subject to the provisions of former s. 738.12 or the surviving spouse has the right under the terms of the trust or state law to require the trustee either to make the property productive or to convert it within a reasonable time.”

Lesson learned: 

The technical requirements for a valid elective share trust are such that you’re probably not going to have a qualifying clause unless the drafting attorney knew what he or she was doing.  By way of contrast, the following is a form of elective share trust that actually works:

Despite any other provision of this Trust Agreement, if my wife or her designated representative elects the Elective Share in my estate, any trust created under this Trust and not qualifying for the federal marital deduction in which my wife is a beneficiary will be divided into two parts, with the least amount of that trust as is needed to satisfy the balance of the Elective Share unpaid by other sources under Section 732.2075 of the Florida Statutes being held as a separate trust (the “Elective Share Trust”) and administered so as to qualify under Section 732.2025 of the Florida Statutes (including the right for my wife to require the Trustee to make the trust property productive or to convert it within a reasonable time). Unless the original trust already provides for a qualifying invasion power or a qualifying power of appointment for my wife, the Personal Representative in its discretion may elect to create an invasion power for the Elective Share Trust for purposes of valuation under Section 732.2095 of the Florida Statutes. If an invasion power is created, the Personal Representative shall designate that such a power is to apply by filing a notice with my wife and in the probate court within 6 months after the election by my wife of the Elective Share.

  • Jeffrey S. Goethe

    I’m working on a case where the opposing counsel is arguing that the elective share should be satisfied by apportioning assets among the various classes under the elective share statute. Class 1 includes probate and revocable trust assets. The remaining classes include non-probate assets such as IRA’s, life insurance and other beneficiary or joint assets. It takes careful planning to review a client’s assets and implement the elective share trust. In some cases, the direct recipients of IRA’s or insurance might end up keeping the asset, while the probate and trust estate are wiped out to satisfy the elective share. I understand that New York has an appointment-type asset, which would spread the liablity for the elective share, as well as spreading out tax liablity for assets such as IRA’s. In my case, the decedent prepared his own will and trust, and then failed to fund the trust. We know what he wanted, but his wife and children got a huge mess. A good elective share trust and proper advice on funding a trust would have saved a lot of attorney fees and delay, not to mention the animosity among his survivors.