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Will $100-million estate battle be heard in Florida?

In an ongoing probate dispute that may be interesting to Florida residents, the beneficiaries of an estate want to replace the trustees who were appointed by the deceased estate owners very late in life.

The story revolves around the estate of a food entrepreneur who created a trust to have his assets managed responsibly. Two appointed trustees handled the trust and other assets for 35 years, but six weeks before the death of the estate owner and his wife, two new trustees were named. The estate assets, which are valued at $100 million, include paintings, jewelry, vehicles and real estate in Minnesota and Florida

The trust's beneficiaries filed various petitions in Florida and Minnesota, contending that the beneficiaries have the right to remove the new trustees. The beneficiaries also claim that their 93-year-old father did not have the mental capacity to make such late changes to the estate plan.

However, according to the new trustees, the food magnate appointed them to handle the assets. The children want to settle the issue in Minnesota, but the trustees want the dispute settled in Florida, since, according to them, the largest portion of the assets are located in Florida.

The dispute over the location of the probate hearings also centers on a difference between the two states' probate laws. According to Minnesota law, trustees can be removed with only the consent of adult beneficiaries, whereas Florida law dictates that all beneficiaries, regardless of age, must consent to removal. In Florida, a minor's consent can be given through his or her parents.

In this particular case, two of the adult beneficiaries have given consent for the removal of the new trustees, but the mother of one of the eight minor beneficiaries does not approve of the removal.

As different states have different laws, matters related to probate can be very complicated for heirs and beneficiaries who just want to see matters settled in the right way. Winter Haven residents who are facing a trust or probate dispute would do well to consult with a legal advocate who can protect their rights and assets.

Source: Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal, "A court battle over Jeno Paulucci's $100 million estate," Ed Stych, Oct. 20, 2012

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