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Walters v. Agency For Health Care Administration

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

December 4, 2019

Pauline Walters, as the personal representative of The Estate of Enid May Townsend, Appellant,
v.
Agency for Health Care Administration, Appellee.

          An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Lower Tribunal No. 18-591. Maria M. Korvick, Judge.

          Law Office of Dexter F. George, and Dexter F. George (Plantation), for appellant.

          Alexander R. Boler (Tallahassee), for appellee.

          Before EMAS, C.J., and SALTER and LOBREE, JJ.

         ON MOTION FOR REHEARING, REHEARING EN BANC AND CERTIFICATION

          EMAS, C.J.

         We deny appellant's motion for rehearing and rehearing en banc, withdraw our previously-issued opinion and substitute the following in its stead:

         Enid Townsend ("Decedent") died on August 29, 2017. She left behind, as her sole heir, her adult daughter Pauline Walters ("Walters"). In February 2018, Walters petitioned the probate court for summary administration of the Decedent's intestate estate, the sole asset of which was the Decedent's interest in a cooperative apartment in North Miami Beach. The petition for summary administration listed this asset as "Cooperative Stock, 16900 N.W. 14th Avenue, Apt. 203, North Miami Beach, FL 33162" and described it as being "PROTECTED HOMESTEAD." Walters sought distribution of this asset to her, despite the existence of at least one creditor.

         Walters also petitioned the probate court to determine the homestead status of the cooperative stock and alleged that "the Property constituted the homestead of the decedent within the meaning of the Constitution of the State of Florida." Walters requested that the court enter an order determining that "the Property" constituted exempt homestead of the Decedent, that title descended to Walters upon Decedent's death, and that the constitutional exemption from claims inured to Walters' benefit at that time.

         Following notice to creditors (which included appellee, the Agency for Health Care Administration ("AHCA")), AHCA filed a statement of claim against the estate in the amount of $81, 276.76, and objected to Walters' petition for homestead protection as to "the Property," asserting that the cooperative stock was not entitled to homestead protection because it was not a fee simple interest in land as required by law. See Art. X, § 4, Fla. Const.; § 732.401, Fla. Stat. (2017).

         Following a hearing, the trial court denied Walters' petition to declare the cooperative stock homestead property, relying upon In re Wartels' Estate, 357 So.2d 708 (Fla. 1978) and Phillips v. Hirshon, 958 So.2d 425 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007). This appeal followed, and we review the court's order denying homestead protection de novo. Spector v. Spector, 226 So.3d 256 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017).

         As the Florida Supreme Court has previously explained:

Our constitution protects Florida homesteads in three distinct ways. First, a clause, separate and apart from the homestead provision applicable in this case, provides homesteads with an exemption from taxes. Second, the homestead provision protects the homestead from forced sale by creditors. Third, the homestead provision delineates the ...

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