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Probate litigation: What will happen to Janet Reno’s homestead?

Some Illinois readers may be aware that the late, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno owned a homestead that is said to be of significant historical value. Before she died, Ms. Reno executed an estate plan that included specific instructions regarding transfer of ownership of the homestead in the event of her death. Due to extenuating issues, Reno’s wishes could not be carried out, which has sparked a complex probate litigation case between her niece and other members of her family.

If a trustee dies or becomes incapacitated before he or she is able to fulfill his or her duties as designated in someone’s estate plan, a successor trustee is appointed. In the case regarding Reno’s homestead, one of her nephews is acting as the successor trustee. In the initial trust, Reno specified that she wanted to donate her homestead to Miami University, providing that the new owners preserve and maintain the grounds in its current, undeveloped condition. The university reportedly rejected the terms of the trust; therefore, the donation was declined. 

A niece of the former U.S. Attorney General is planning to ask the Florida Supreme Court to hear her case, which states that, according to the terms of her deceased aunt’s trust, the successor trustee should now sell the property. However, he recently won an appeal in a lower court to donate the homestead to a different university instead. The appeal was filed on grounds of a cy pres doctrine, which is legal speak for coming up with an alternative plan when the terms of an initial trust are impossible to fulfill.

Probate litigation cases like this one can take weeks, even months or years, to resolve. Any Illinois resident facing similar legal challenges may fare best in court by requesting support from an experienced estate planning and administration attorney. Those concerned about successor trustee or property transfer issues may want to continue to follow the Reno case to completion.