Sunday, March 29, 2015

Direct vs. Indirect Probate Court Jurisdiction Over Foreign Realty

[This is a Florida case, but presumably the same principle may apply in other states.]

A state probate court generally does not have jurisdiction over real property situated in another state or country that was owned by the decedent. Generally, such property must be administered in those local jurisdictions, and local law will apply to its disposition (although such foreign jurisdictions may be bound to follow the decedent’s last will if that is what the law of that jurisdiction requires).

In a recent Florida case, a Florida court ordered that the Florida personal representative should hold the share of a beneficiary in an intestate Florida estate in a restricted account until that beneficiary “has fulfilled her obligation to ensure legal title to the Romanian properties is properly vested in the persons entitled to receive those properties under Romanian law.” After issuing the order the Florida court was persuaded to vacate it since it did not have jurisdiction over the Romania property nor the legal authority to compel administration of the decedent’s estate in the country of Romania.

The appellate court reversed the vacating of the order. It noted:

“It has long been established . . . that a court which has obtained in personam jurisdiction over a defendant may order that defendant to act on property that is outside of the court's jurisdiction, provided that the court does not directly affect the title to the property while it remains in the foreign jurisdiction.” General Electric Capital Corp. v. Advance Petroleum, Inc., 660 So. 2d 1139, 1142 (Fla. 3d DCA 1995) (emphasis in original).

It also noted that the probate court had personal jurisdiction over the beneficiary and thus had authority to direct her to effect distribution of the Romanian property, even though the property lay outside the court’s geographic jurisdiction since the probate court was doing “nothing to directly affect the title to the properties.”

Do you agree? The court clearly “indirectly” affected title to the Romanian property – it was twisting the arm of the beneficiary to have title transferred in Romania (albeit in accordance with Romanian law) by holding her inheritance hostage. Is this different enough from a direct order to transfer the property or a an order directly transferring property so as to justify the court’s jurisdictional reach?

See also Rubin on Probate Litigation for another write-up of this case.

IOAN CIUNGU, BENEFICIARY, Appellant, v. MELANIA BULEA, BENEFICIARY IN RE: ESTATE OF VICTORIA CIUNGU, ET AL., Appellee. 40 Fla. L. Weekly D689c, 1st District. Case No. 1D13-5392

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