In your memorandum you requested assistance in persuading the administrator of the
estate of Katrean N~ to refund from estate assets a Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
overpayment balance of $5,023.
According to the file, the original overpayment was $10,333.10. At the time of the
death of Katrean N~, she had an ownership interest in residential (home) property.
Two (2) other individuals, Jessica S~ and Jessica's aunt, Oddie F~, also have an ownership
interest in the subject residential property. It is unclear from the file what relationship,
if any, existed between the deceased, Jessica S~, and Oddie F~. It is also unclear
whether any of the three (3) apparent owners of the subject property actually lived
on the property. Jessica S~ has stated she owns a one-third interest in the property.
The property has an approximate worth of $30,000 according to Jessica S~. There is
no deed or other documentary evidence in the file describing the nature of the legal
interest each of the alleged owners have in the property. According to an attorney
representing the deceased's estate, the deceased Katrean N~'s share of the residential
property is $10,000. According to an attorney representing the deceased's estate,
the deceased had no other assets except her ownership interest in the residential
In response to a letter from the Social Security Administration requesting refund
of the overpayment balance of $5,023, the attorney for the deceased's estate advised
that the property at issue was homestead property and was exempt from claims of all
creditors. Article 10 Section 4 of the Florida Constitution exempts a homestead from
forced sale and lien provided such homestead is owned by the head of a family. The
purpose of the homestead exemption is to protect the family home from forced sale
for debts of the owner and head of the family. Tullis v. Tullis, 360 So.2d 375 (1978). Specifically, the purpose of the homestead exemption is to
protect surviving family members. In re Noble's Estate, 73 So.2d 873 (1954). Homestead property is not chargeable with the decedent's debts
or with the costs of administration. Estate
of Murphy, 340 So.2d 107 (1976). Head of family status is satisfied if a person qualifies as
a tenant by the entirely, a spouse or a person legally or morally obligated to support
other family members. However, homestead property loses its character as exempt property
when the head of a family dies unless one of his heirs assumes the status of head
of the family and resides therein with other dependent family members. Wilson v. Florida National
Bank & Trust Co. at Miami, 64 So.2d 309 (1953).
In the present action, the file is not sufficiently developed to determine whether
or not the deceased would qualify for the status of head of family. It is unclear
what the deceased's relationship was to the two (2) other apparent co-owners or any
other persons who may have been living in the residential property. Further, it is
not clear from the file whether co- owners or any other persons living on the subject
property were dependent on the deceased. If the deceased did not have the status of
a head of a family, the status of homestead died with the deceased, and there would
be no basis for the estate to assert a homestead exemption. Hospital
Affiliates of Florida, Inc. v. McElroy, 393 So.2d 25 (1981).
According to Jessica S~, the subject property will be given to someone other than
Jessica or Oddie F~ once the property is released from probate. Since a gift of the
property is envisioned by Jessica and Oddie following probate, it does not appear
that the deceased has the status of head of a family and the homestead exemption would
not be applicable to her interest in the property.
In order to determine whether a homestead exemption is applicable, the file should
be further developed to determine (1) the relationship between the deceased and the
other co-owners, (2) the nature of their ownership interests as reflected by the deed
conveying an ownership interest to them, and, (3) the extent to which any of the other
owners or other persons were living in the house and were dependent upon the deceased.
Given this information, a determination can be made as to the applicability of a homestead
If such development does not support a homestead exemption, this matter should be
considered for referral to the appropriate United States attorney for collection.
However, the file does not reflect that the usual letter to the personal representative
of the estate has been issued advising the personal representative of the personal
liability such person may incur for distributing estate property inconsistent with
31 U.S.C. §3713(b). It is recommended that such a letter be sent to the personal representative
if one has not been sent to date.