Layne v. Layne, — So.3d —-, 2011 WL 5560563 (Fla. 1st DCA Nov 16, 2011)

expectationsWhat “rights” do I have in an inheritance from my parents? Under Florida law, generally speaking the answer is none. At most I might expect or hope to one day maybe inherit a share of dad’s estate, but an “expectancy”  isn’t a property right. These basic property-law and inheritance principles are at the heart of this case.

Case Study:

In this case “Son” owned a townhouse 50/50 with his “Dad” and Dad’s wife at the time. A few years later, Son deeded his 1/2 share in the townhouse to Dad and Dad’s now ex-wife, resulting in Dad and ex-wife each owning a 1/2 interest in the whole property as tenants in common. Dad dies intestate, survived by two heirs: Son and his sister. Son claims 1/2 of dad’s intestate estate, including a share of Dad’s interest in the townhouse. Ex-wife cries foul, saying Son shouldn’t get any part of the townhouse. Why? According to ex-wife when Son deeded his share of the townhouse to Dad, he also deeded away his 1/2 share of Dad’s future intestate estate (which included the townhouse). Sound crazy? Well, the trial court actually bought this argument and ruled against Son.

On appeal the 1st DCA reversed the trial court’s ruling based in large part on the basic principles outlined above. Sometimes even the savviest judge can get the basics wrong. That’s why opinions like this one are helpful, especially for practicing probate lawyers. The following is an excerpt from the 1st DCA’s linked-to opinion:

The court’s order states that Appellant’s quitclaim deed operated to “convey all of his interest” in the townhouse; thus, he is not entitled to any portion of the property that would otherwise pass to him as a beneficiary of his father’s estate. Any right Appellant has to take an interest in the property as a beneficiary did not, however, exist at the time Appellant executed the quitclaim deed. A quitclaim deed conveys only that interest in a property held by the grantor at the time of the conveyance. See, e.g., Blitch v. Sapp, 142 Fla. 166, 194 So. 328, 330 (1940) (holding “a ‘quit-claim’ deed yields only such interest in land as the grantor had at the time of the making of such deed.”). In other words, “[t]he possibility that a person will inherit property from an ancestor is but an expectancy and not an interest in property. While a descendant may expect or hope to inherit, neither a present nor future interest in property actually exists in the absence of a conveyance.” Diaz v. Rood, 851 So.2d 843, 845 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003); see also § 732.101(2), Fla. Stat. (“The decedent’s death is the event that vests the heirs’ right to the decedent’s intestate property.”).

We recognize that the court in Diaz also held that it is possible to convey an expectancy. 851 So.2d at 845. In that case, however, the assignment in question made it clear that the grantor was doing just that; here, the quitclaim deed conveyed only Appellant’s interest in the townhouse as it existed at the time of the conveyance. It did not expressly convey any future right to the property Appellant may acquire by virtue of an expectancy, such as a will or via intestacy.