Families are funny. One day they love each other; the next day not so much and, before you know it, they are suing one another. Take the case of a grandfather, Irving Himmelfarb, who generously gave his grand-daughters gifts pursuant to the Uniform Transfer to Minors Act. Himmelfarb v. Himmelfarb, 43 Fla. Law Weekly D1003 (1st DCA 2018).
As fate would have it, Mom and Dad ended up in divorce proceedings and Dad had to pay child support for his daughters Kimberly and Kristina. This apparently did not make Grandpa happy so he removed the money from the account that he had already set up for Kimberly and Kristina in order to reimburse his son (Dad) for monies Dad was forced to expend for child support and other expenses regarding the divorce.
One can presume that the divorce must have caused some bad blood between the parents and their respective families because, once Kimberly and Kristina found out that Grandpa had removed their money from their account, which was supposed to be a gift, they sued Grandpa. For civil theft.
Now, if you are planning to still break bread with Grandpa at Thanksgiving this was probably not a great idea. Kimberly and Kristina obviously believed that the money was more important. Grandpa, perhaps as a result of the shock of having been sued by his grandchildren, defaulted after having been served with the Complaint. The Circuit Court awarded more than $200,000 in damages against Grandpa and in favor of Kristina and Kimberly.
Grandpa appealed. The First District affirmed finding that the well pled allegations of the original complaint and the default were sufficient to conclusively establish damages against Grandpa. The Court made this ruling even though there was conflicting evidence about the amount of the damages. The Court found that a determination regarding damages will be affirmed on appeal if it is supported by competent substantial evidence in the Trial Court.
There are three lessons to be learned here. The first is – a gift is a gift is a gift and, once you make it, in certain circumstances, you cannot take it back. Second, in divorce cases people take sides, even against their own family. Third, Grandpa should have taken his granddaughters’ Complaint seriously and he should have hired a lawyer and timely responded to it. By ignoring it, Grandpa compounded the problem by allowing the Trial Court to award treble damages and attorneys’ fees.
Kimberly and Kristina will probably not be having Thanksgiving with Grandpa this year.