In the case of Yergin v. Georgopolos, No. 3D16-2192, 2017 WL 1277995 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2017), Richard Yergin obtained a life insurance policy on himself 25 years ago and named Richard’s mother, Mary Georgopolos, as the beneficiary. The policy would pay out $41,687.74. Georgopolos and Richard’s family was unaware of the existence of this life insurance policy and the payout amount at the time Yergin’s estate was probated in circuit court. Georgopolos and Richard’s family found out about the policy in 2015, a decade and a half later.
By the time Georgopolos and Richard’s family found out about the money, the insurance company had already turned-over the $41,687.74 to the Florida Department of Financial Services. When Richard’s half-brother, Glen Yergin, learned about the money in 2015, he petitioned to reopen Richard’s estate, and appoint himself the personal representative, and for a declaration that the insurance policy annuity “(1) was a failed transfer because Georgopolos was not Richard’s mother as stated on the policy; and (2) belonged as part of the estate property. Glen also served his declaratory judgment petition on ninety-two-year-old Mary Georgopolos, in Fircrest, Washington.”
The issue on appeal is whether an estate that seeks to obtain money or property delivered to the financial services department as unclaimed must first file a claim with the department, and exhaust administrative remedies, before it can file a lawsuit in the trial courts determining ownership of the property.
Richard contends that the circuit court must decide first because Florida law gives it exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether property is part of an estate, under Florida Statues §733.105(1)(a). The constitution in addition to state statues give the financial services department jurisdiction to make determinations as to unclaimed property deposited in the state treasury.
“The Legislature reconciled these provisions in section 717.1242(1), finding that “consistent with [the] legislative intent” to give jurisdiction to the circuit court over the settlement of estates, and jurisdiction to the financial services department over unclaimed property, “any estate or beneficiary … of an estate seeking to obtain property paid or delivered to the department … must file a claim with the department.” §717.1242(1), Fla. Stat. (2015). The Legislature then laid out an extensive administrative procedure for seeking unclaimed property. The department must decide on a claim within ninety days (with some exceptions), id. §717.124(1)(c), and has a method for determining the priority of conflicting claims, id. §717.1241. “In rendering a determination regarding the merits of an unclaimed property claim, the department shall rely on the applicable statutory, regulatory, common, and case law.” Id. §717.1244. And a person “aggrieved” by the department’s decision may petition for an administrative hearing under the Florida Administrative Procedures Act. Id. §717.126(1).”
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