Can Someone Appeal A Probate Decision If They Are Not An “Interested Person”?
Not everyone has the legal right to challenge a will or participate in a probate proceeding. Florida law only recognizes such rights for “interested persons.” The statutory definition of an interested person is someone “who may reasonably be expected to be affected by the outcome of the particular proceeding involved.” Broadly speaking, this group usually includes any beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will, or alternatively those who would stand to inherit if there is no will.
If someone cannot establish they are not an interested person, a Florida probate court is unlikely to hear any challenge they might bring to the administration of the decedent’s probate estate. Take this recent decision from the Florida Third District Court of Appeals, Cruz v. Neely. In this case, a challenger objected to the final distribution of a probate estate. The challenger alleged he was an interested person under a will executed by the decedent in 2017.
But as the Third District explained, the probate court previously determined that will was a forgery and thus invalid as a matter of law. The challenger failed to appeal that decision in a timely manner. As such, he no longer had standing in the probate of the estate, since he did not otherwise qualify as an interested person. Since he could not challenge the distribution order, he also could not appeal, so the Third District dismissed the case.
Who Is–and Is Not–an Interested Person?
If you are involved in the administration of a probate estate, it is critical to understand who is–and who is not–an interested person. Aside from beneficiaries and heirs, interested persons also typically include any known creditors of the decedent. If the decedent also created any revocable trusts as part of their estate plan, the successor trustees may also be considered interested persons. However, any beneficiaries who have already received a “complete distribution” of their share of the estate are no longer considered interested persons.
Florida law also cautions that the precise definition of an interested person “may vary from time to time and must be determined according to the particular purpose of, and matter involved in, any proceedings.”
Interested persons have certain legal rights with respect to probate administration. For example, they may ask for copies of any inventories or accountings filed by the estate, records which are typically not accessible to the public. And as the above case illustrates, only interested persons may formally object to the handling of the estate in court or seek relief, such as an order to invalidate a will or remove the personal representative for misconduct.
If you are involved in any form of probate dispute and need advice from a qualified Pompano Beach estate and trust litigation attorney, contact the offices of Mark R. Manceri, P.A., Attorney at Law, today to schedule an initial consultation.