Beekhuis v. Morris, — So.3d —-, 2012 WL 2121258 (Fla. 4th DCA June 13, 2012)

F.S. 736.0201 tells us that “judicial proceedings concerning trusts shall be commenced by filing a complaint and shall be governed by the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure.” It’s a simple rule, which I’ve been writing about for years [click here].

If you want to get your hands on trust property, all you have to do is file a complaint and follow the Rules of Civil Procedure. Is that really too much to ask for? Apparently it was in this case. In the midst of a contested guardianship proceeding, and in response to nothing more than a motion filed by the guardian, the probate judge simply entered an ex parte order compelling the ward’s trustee to hand over trust assets. Wrong answer! So saith the 4th DCA:

Beekhuis argues that the probate court did not have jurisdiction over the trust or its trustee because she “filed no pleadings and sought no relief in her capacity as [t]rustee and did not subject either herself or the trust to the jurisdiction of the probate court.” See Chaffin v. Overstreet, 982 So.2d 11, 14 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008) (explaining that appearing before the probate court in one capacity does not subject that party in a separate capacity to the jurisdiction of the court); see also Mfrs. Nat. Bank of Detroit v. Moons, 659 So.2d 474, 475 (Fla. 4th DCA 1995) (holding that the probate court did not have jurisdiction over the trustees because there was no service of process on trustees and the trustees did not voluntarily submit to the jurisdiction of the court).

We conclude that it was error for the probate court to assert jurisdiction over the trust property and Beekhuis, in her capacity as trustee, when the original pleadings never raised any claim over the trust or its property, and Beekhuis continually asserted that the court lacked jurisdiction over the trust and trustee. See Chaffin, 982 So.2d at 14.