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Trusts & Estates Law/Widow's ability to recover share of late husband's estate


Hi Janet, I hope you had a wonderful vacation. My question relates to Florida law. I understand you are licensed to practice law only in California. Iím also aware of your caveat that with respect to other statesí laws you can only provide some ďgeneralĒ information that may or may not apply to a specific situation.   

Iím trying to get some basic information for a friend who has almost no money to pursue legal actions. My friendís late husband was a resident of Florida and died in Florida four months ago. The husband left no will and owned no real property.

Virtually all of his assets consisted of the proceeds from his group term life insurance policy through his employer (a national airline). The husband had named his only child (a daughter) from a prior marriage as the beneficiary of that group term life insurance policy.

For the purpose of this question, Iíll appreciate your assuming that the widow and the deceased husbandís daughter each has a right to 50% of the husbandís estate under Florida law.

Question: In general, is there often or sometimes a way for the widow to obtain 50% or some other portion of those life insurance proceeds in a situation like this so that she can receive her 50% of the estate? If so, what option(s) might possibly be available?

Thanks for any general information you can provide.

Thank you for your question.  As you state, I am not admitted to practice in Florida and do not know the laws there.  Having said that, it might be possible to file a suit against the insurance company "enjoining" them from distributing the policy proceeds to the daughter pending outcome of a hearing on whether the widow has any rights to the money under Florida law.  You'd need to contact a Florida attorney to determine whether that's possible ... and if the money has already been distributed, it's too late (most likely) to go after the insurance company.

If the money has already been paid to the daughter, it might be possible to file a "petition to enforce constructive trust" against the daughter.  Again, you'd need to ask a Florida lawyer whether this is possible.

Since you say your friend has "almost no money", I'd suggest that she start by contacting a lawyer's referral service.  In California all of the large counties (and some of the smaller ones, too) have a LRS through the county Bar Association.  Ask for someone who's familiar with probate litigation.  If no one is familiar with probate litigation, ask for a probate lawyer (the probate court rules are not the same as the general civil court rules, and I find that "general" litigation lawyers can't find their way out of a wet paper bag when they're in probate court - so the client ends up paying for the time it takes their lawyer to figure out how to play the game).

Hope that helps.

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Janet Brewer


BE CAREFUL about taking legal advice from non-lawyers.

I am a licensed attorney in California. I am available to answer questions about probating estates, preparing wills and trusts, administering estates and trusts, forming family limited partnerships and limited liability companies, and establishing a wide variety of estate and gift tax-sensitive trusts (charitable trusts, children's trusts, irrevocable life insurance trusts, etc.).

I can also answer questions regarding the preparation of estate tax returns (Form 706) in taxable estates. Please note that I do not prepare trust income tax returns and cannot provide you with any information about that type of return.

Please note: I am only able to practice law in the State of California. I cannot answer specific questions about other states' laws; I can only provide some "general" information that may or may not apply to your situation.


I have practiced California estate, gift-planning, and probate law exclusively since 1991. I am certified as a specialist in estate planning and probate law by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization (there are less than 125 such specialists practicing in Santa Clara County and fewer than 7,000 practicing in California - out of over 170,000 lawyers statewide).

I have served as an Instructor in the CFP (certificate in financial planning) program at University of California Ė Santa Cruz, teaching the estate planning segment.

Silicon Valley Bar Association
Wealth Counsel
Wealth Advisors' Forum
Executive Committee Member, Solo and Small Firm Section of the California State Bar (appointed to a 3 year term by the California State Bar Board of Governors)

I received my law degree (J.D.) from University of Denver Law School in 1975. I was admitted to the Colorado Bar in 1975 and to the California Bar in 1977 (NOTE: although I am a member of the Colorado Bar, I am on INACTIVE status there). I earned an M.B.A. in 1982, and I earned a Masters Degree in Taxation Law (LLM) at Golden Gate University Law School in 2010 (with honors).

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Awards and Honors
2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, & 2012 - chosen as a "SuperLawyer" - one of the top 5% of Northern California lawyers practicing in the estate planning and probate area ( Avvo Rating of 10.0/10.0

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