It is very common for wealthy people to own property in several different states — and for one of those states to be Florida. That’s why all estate planners and their clients should be aware of a late July ruling that came out of Florida, where an appellate court affirmed that a Florida probate court does not have jurisdiction over real property in another state.
In the current case, a person domiciled in Florida but also owning land in Georgia passed away, and the decedent’s estate went through probate. At first, the Florida probate court directed the estate’s representative in Florida to distribute the decedent’s Georgia real estate, but one of the beneficiaries appealed the order, arguing that the Florida probate court lacked jurisdiction to dispose of the Georgia real estate.
An appellate court in Florida agreed with the beneficiary, ruling that a Florida court does not have jurisdiction over real property located outside of Florida.
“When a testator executes a will devising lands in two or more states,” the court ruled, “the courts in each state construe it as to the lands located therein as if devised by separate wills.” The personal representative was required to open an ancillary action in Georgia.
Certainly it’s not an ideal situation to require a personal representative to open multiple cases to distribute an estate. On the other hand, it would be much more time consuming, expensive, and irritating for one set of heirs to think the estate was settled, only to have the orders reversed on appeal.
That’s only one of the concerns that wealthy clients who own property in multiple states need to be aware of. This very common situation can give rise to several problems that the clients may not foresee. Some things to keep in mind:
As the Florida example indicates, having property in multiple states can lead to multiple probate proceedings. The most foolproof way of avoiding this problem of having to probate in two states can be eliminated by simply avoiding probate.