“The Light Most Favorable” Does not Refer to a Florida Sunrise. In an Appeal, the Appellant is Obligated to Provide a Statement of Facts and to Interpret the Evidence in the Light Most Favorable to Sustain the Trial Court’s Conclusions

Posted on July 29, 2016

In Hall v. Hall, 190 So.3d 683 (April 27, 2016) the Third DCA examined how “ ‘the light most favorable’ is not a reference to a Florida Sunrise” in regards to appellate advocacy in a case which involved loved ones challenging the validity of their deceased family member, Mrs. Hall’s, will and trust. This case demonstrates that appellants must provide statements of facts and interpret evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining conclusions of the finder of fact. Meaning, where competent substantial evidence exists to support the trial courts conclusion. The appellate court must affirm. This case highlights how individuals will go to great lengths to invalidate a will and trust despite the best efforts of settlors/testators to protect their wills and trusts from attack and to ensure their wishes will be carried out.

In this case Mrs. Hall’s family members challenged Mrs. Halls will and trust when they asserted that she was under undue influence by a daughter serving as personal representative under the will. The trial court devoted two weeks to the trial of the appellants’ claims.  The Third DCA affirmed and wrote only to reiterate a fundamental tenet of appellate advocacy.  The Third DCA commented that the presentation of the record by the appellants in their initial brief was not a summary of the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court’s findings, and as an example stated that the appellants were not credible as supported by inconsistencies in their testimony.  In this case Mrs. Hall’s testamentary capacity was not questioned and the will and trust were upheld because there was expert testimony following a review of medical records and videotapes of the decedent, including the video of the will-signing. The expert was board certified in geriatric psychiatry with a M.D degree from Yale University and a residency at Harvard, and further served as a medical director of a health organization and an associate professor at a medical school.  The trial court also heard testimony of persons present at the execution of the challenged documents.  The Third DCA found that this record, viewed in the required light, established that the challenged documents were properly executed and were prepared at the request of the decedent.  The daughter also established that she was not a substantial beneficiary, which is a required finding to successfully challenge an instrument based upon undue influence.  While there was competent substantial evidence to support the trial court’s conclusions, the result here was, at least in part, due to the appellants’ failure to comply with a fundamental tenet of appellate advocacy.

It is worthy of mention that videotaping a will or trust execution can be a double edged sword.  It can serve as the best evidence of the testator’s/settlor’s competence and the lack of undue influence, or establish with certainty lack of capacity and/or the existence of undue influence.  Once the tape is created it cannot be destroyed without dire consequences.  The late President Richard Nixon and his long-time personal secretary, Rose Mary Woods, can attest to this fundamental truth.

If you or anyone you know is in need of representation in actions involving Guardianship, Probate and/or Trust Disputes, or questions pertaining to such proceedings, please contact The Law Offices of Glenn M. Mednick, P.L., at (954) 315-1154 or gmednick@mednicklawgroup.com.

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