Harding v. Rosoff, — So.2d —-, 2007 WL 461381(Fla. 4th DCA Feb 14, 2007)

This is the second appellate opinion arising out of this piece of probate litigation.  I wrote about the first appeal here.  In this sad case a 95 year old woman inadvertently failed to comply with the technical  requirements necessary to effectively exercise a power of appointment she had under a trust created by her brother over 30 years ago.

The default beneficiary under brother’s trust sued the probate estate over the attempted exercise of the power of appointment and won.  Rather than being content with this win, default trust beneficiary then sued the personal representative of sister’s estate for attorneys’ fees.  The trial court said NO WAY, and the 4th DCA agreed as follows:

  • Court: You can’t sue someone else’s personal representative for breach of fiduciary duty:

The personal representatives argue that there can be no surcharge, which is a charge against a fiduciary to compensate a beneficiary for the breach of fiduciary duty, Merkel v. Guardianship of Jacoby, 862 So.2d 906 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003), because there was no fiduciary duty to Harding. They point out that they are fiduciaries only of the Teresa Rosoff estate and that Harding is not a beneficiary of that estate. Harding is a beneficiary of the Molinari Trust, but the personal representatives are not fiduciaries of the trust. We are not persuaded by Harding that there is a fiduciary duty to her, but we need not decide that issue because the pursuance of the litigation by the personal representatives was consistent with the testator’s intent. Although they lost and we affirmed, we noted that “Teresa’s apparent intent has been thwarted.” Rosoff, 901 So.2d at 1010. The trial court was correct in finding no impropriety by the personal representatives.

  • Court: You don’t get fees for thwarting the testatrix’s intent:

Harding also contends that she should have been awarded attorney’s fees and costs for prevailing in the litigation under section 733.106, Florida Statutes (2005), because the litigation benefited the estate. In re Estate of Udell, 501 So.2d 1286 (Fla. 4th DCA 1986). Harding has cited no cases, however, which would support her theory that there was a benefit to the estate under these specific facts. She relies on In re Estate of McCune, 223 So.2d 787 (Fla. 4th DCA 1969), in which we stated that services which carry out the intent of the testator as expressed in the will are compensable from the estate. As we previously noted, however, this litigation thwarted the testator’s intent. Harding also cites Robinson v. Robinson, 805 So.2d 94 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002), in which this court affirmed an award of attorney’s fees to a beneficiary who successfully reformed a trust. In Robinson, however, the fees were awarded from the trust, not the estate. Under these facts, in which the litigation determined only who would be the beneficiary of the Molinari Trust, the trial court did not err in finding that there was no benefit to the estate.