Young v. Kurlansik, — So.2d —-, 2008 WL 508427 (Fla. 4th DCA Feb 27, 2008)

The trustee of a decedent’s revocable trust and the personal representative of the decedent’s estate are inextricably linked because the PR has a claim on all assets of the revocable trust needed to pay probate administration expenses.  F.S. 736.05053.  Although this background information is not addressed in the linked-to opinion, I am assuming it had something to do with the underlying litigation. 

In the linked-to case the PR sued the trustee of the decedent’s revocable trust over a promissory note executed by the trustee.  The PR apparently had a good day at trial, because the trial-court judge not only awarded the PR damages on the promissory note (implying the note had been breached and was no longer in effect), but also "reformed" the promissory note to include omitted terms (implying the note was still in effect and would now be enforced in accordance with the new terms added by the judge).    The trustee cried foul, arguing you can’t have it both ways, and the 4th DCA agreed, reversing the trial court’s judgment as follows:

In its final judgment the trial court reformed a promissory note to include omitted terms. At the same time it entered a judgment for damages based upon several legal theories that the appellants engaged in tortious conduct by omitting those terms. The amount of the damages constituted the principal amount of the note, and in her complaint appellee had requested damages and cancellation of the note.

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We reverse the final judgment with directions that the trial court shall allow the appellee to elect her remedy. Electing reformation will permit the appellee to sue on the promissory note and foreclose on the mortgage securing the note. The promissory note and mortgage also include an attorney’s fee provision. Electing a judgment for damages constitutes a disavowal of the promissory note and will require its cancellation. It will permit the appellee to obtain interest at the statutory rate instead of the promissory note rate. The trial court will then enter judgment on the remedy elected by the appellee. That remedy would include prejudgment interest, which we conclude is proper for this pecuniary loss. See Siedlecki v. Arabia, 699 So.2d 1040, 1042 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997).

Lesson learned?

Sometimes "probate" litigation has nothing to do with Florida’s probate code.  In those cases I’m a big believer in co-counseling with competent counsel specializing in the particular type of case at issue, e.g., breach of a promissory note.  Bringing in specialized co-counsel is good for the client: the cost is usually equal to or less than the cost of paying me to handle the case solo, and the end results are usually better.  Who can argue with that math?