Janet Reno was both an important and controversial figure in American history. Our goal in today’s Brevard County blog post isn’t to dissect the pros or cons of our nation’s first female Attorney General, but rather to discuss how her estate illustrates an important aspect of Florida estate planning.
Reno died in late 2016, but a Florida appellate court only recently decided the disposition of a home and property she owned in Dade County.
According to a news article, Reno was raised in a home her mother built by hand in what was at the time rural Dade County. The homestead sits in an apparently still undeveloped part of Miami-Dade County, on what is described as “an ecological island formed by elevated trees surrounded by wetlands.”
Reno did what many here in the Sunshine State do: she put her estate in a revocable trust with herself designated as trustee. Because she had no spouse, children or surviving siblings, she completely controlled the homestead via the trust.
The house and property were to go to the University of Miami, as long as both were kept “as is.” But the school didn’t want the gift under those conditions (it feared high maintenance costs). Her trust divided the remainder of her assets among her nieces and nephews. One of those nephews was named successor trustee and suggested to the probate court that the property go to Miami Dade College, which had agreed to the conditions.
All but one of the nieces and nephews agreed to the plan – and that niece sued. Though the trial court agreed with the plan, saying it reflected Reno’s original intent, the niece intends to appeal the ruling.
The point of the story is that Reno and her estate planning attorney could have avoided the years-long dispute by simply providing an alternative if the university turned down the property. A Plan B could have saved trouble and expense all around.
To discuss your estate plans and any possible needed contingency plans, contact a Brevard County attorney experienced in protecting you, your assets and your family.