A probate judge in Florida has decided that blood really is not thicker than water.

In the notable estate litigation case, the judge effectively left a man’s family out of his estate plans. The family had argued that the beneficiary of their relative’s will was a swindler, even though he had been a long-standing family friend. The decedent in this case reportedly died in poverty, although he owned land that could fetch millions in a sale.

Even though the man’s decision to leave his estate to the family friend seemed questionable, the decedent was mentally competent when he made the changes, according to the judicial ruling. The man was only able to read at a third-grade level, but that fact appeared immaterial in determining whether his estate plan was valid under Florida law. The man left his entire estate to his friend, a carpenter whom he had met in the 1990s; he excluded the vast majority of his relatives from the estate plan.

Family members were outraged at the decision, even though the judge determined that the beneficiary had spent more time with the decedent than any of the people who challenged his will. Relatives called the decision “obscene,” but it appears that the decedent had taken appropriate action to leave his property to the beneficiary of his choice.

Accountants and psychologists in the case said that the man had made some questionable real estate investments, handing over the deeds to apartment buildings while still remaining responsible for the mortgage. Still, the man alleged in his estate documents that his family members never assisted with the farm duties, only becoming interested in his life as the land increased in value. It is not clear whether those allegations were true; relatives argue that the man’s friend successfully drove a wedge between them.

Sadly, probate court cannot always distribute assets to family members, even though they may think they deserve the assets. A comprehensive estate plan can help a benefactor distribute assets as he or she sees fit, which may not necessarily conform to relatives’ opinions.

Luis E. Barreto