Florida Trust Contests: Jenos Pizza Rolls and Michelina Italian Foods Founder Jeno Paulucci’s Death Provides Great Example of Trust Contests in Florida Arising From Deaths Occuring in Other States

Posted By on October 25, 2012

Have you ever tried a Jeno’s Pizza Roll?

Or maybe had some Chun King canned Chinese food or opted for some frozen Italian Michelina’s fare, with a movie at home with the kids?

Well, then, you’ve contributed to the fortune of Jeno Paulucci, the founder of these food product lines.  Minnesotan Jeno Paulucci was an enterpreneural whiz, forming over 70 companies during his lifetime.  At his death, his estate was valued in excess of $100 million. He died on Thanskgiving Day 2011: only four days after his beloved wife, Lois, passed away.

Which is how Florida estate planning, probate law and Florida trust contests issues comes into play.

Trust Contest over Who Will Act As Trustees of The Jeno Paulucci Estate

Jeno and Lois Paulucci established Trusts more than a dozen years ago, and when they passed away those trusts totalled over $100 million.  They named their children and grandchildren, etc. as the beneficiaries of the trusts, and these beneficiary choices remained the same; however, only six weeks before their deaths, four days apart, Jeno and wife Lois changed the Trustees of their trusts.  They replaced the trustees who were handling things with two new people.

Now that their parents have died, the three heirs want to get rid of the new Trustees and return the old Trustees to their original jobs. Easier said that done.

The three children, as beneficiaries, have filed lawsuits to try and get this accomplished both in Minnesota and in Florida.  In both cases, they are arguing well-known trust contest arguments:  that there was a lack of mental capacity as well as an exertion of “undue influence” and therefore, their parents did not have the legal ability to change the Trustees in October 2011.

What are the new Trustees arguing? That there is a mighty good reason for changing the trustees:  they could do a better job of overseeing the Trust (one of them is the head of Paulucci International) and given that they were in Florida while Mr. and Mrs. Paulucci were in Minnesota, the possibility of exerting undue influence upon them is simply not possible.

A better argument for the Defendants (the new Trustees) is that the attempts to remove them need to be heard in a Florida probate court because most of the Trust’s property is in Florida and half of the beneficaries are located in Florida. That Trust Property is Florida real estate, as well as artwork, jewelry, and other items of high value.

The trial courts in Minnesota have agreed that Florida courts should hear these disputes; the children have appealed these rulings.

Larry Tolchinsky’s Tip:

There are many situations where ties with other states, as well as other countries, can cause problems with one’s estate plan.  The current Paulucci Trust controversy is a great example of how someone who lived and died in a state other than Florida, here Minnesota,  has such a connection with the Sunshine State of Florida that Florida probate lawyers and Florida probate courts may end up impacting that out-of-state person’s property and estate administration.

It was decided in the Minnesota Courts by St. Louis County Judge Heather Sweetland and by Hennepin County referee Dean Maus that the dispute is being properly heard in the State of Florida.  Lots of lawyer time (and lawyer fees) have been spent just to get to the right courtroom in which this dispute should be heard: the arguments on the merits of the dispute (the trust contest itself) hasn’t even started.

Why the big deal over having a Florida judge hear this trust contest?  Because of the difference in Florida lawHere in Florida, every single beneficiary no matter their age must agree to remove a trustee.  If they are very young, then their parents can make the call for them, signing in their name as duly authorized representatives of the minor child.  They don’t get a say in Minnesota: under Minnesota law, only the beneficiaries who are legal adults have a vote.

In the Paulucci case, that’s putting 8 minor beneficiary votes up in the air – and the parents of one minor child cannot agree on whether or not to fire the current trustees.

Needless to say, different states mean different votes and different results. Things do look right now as if Florida will end up hearing the trust contest case, where there will be testimony on the mental acumen of Jeno Paulucci during the last 60 days or so of his life and what communications he may have had with the new trustees (so they could have an opportunity to exert an undue influence).

Given that the two trustees are a Florida state senator and the man who Jeno entrusted with heading Paulucci International, one would think that this will not be an easy case to win: these aren’t the usual defendants in an undue influence case.  (Who are the usual defendants?  Other family members, caretakers and others who have daily contact with the individual and who have the time and opportunity to take advantage of the affirmed party.)

Bottom line, if you have property in the State of Florida, regardless of where you live, then you need to know the impact that Florida law may have on your estate planning and end of life strategies.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to Chat with Larry in the comments below, at info@hallandalelaw.com, or (954) 458-8655. If you have a specific situation, please call or email Larry because he can’t answer specific fact questions in general comments. He’s happy to take your call.

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