A Brief Guide to the Probate Appeals Process

When a deceased person’s Will and estate go to probate, parties who have some financial or personal interest in the estate may not always be completely satisfied with a court’s decision regarding various aspects of the process. If you disagree with how matters have been handled with regards to a probate issue you or your family member have been involved with, you may resort to the probate appeals process. In this article, you will find the most important information about the requirements related to this process and the general path the appellate proceedings follow.

What Kind of Probate Decisions Can You Appeal?

Generally speaking, probate appeals cases follow the same pattern as appellate proceedings in all civil cases. However, the Florida Appellate Court Rules limits the scope of probate court decisions that can be appealed to “orders that finally determine a right or obligation of an interested person as defined in the Florida Probate Code.” Some examples of such orders include the following types of decisions:

  • Revoking Letters of Administration
  • Revoking probate of a Will
  • Granting or denying a petition for administration
  • Determining individuals to whom distribution should be made
  • Removal of a fiduciary or a decision to refuse to remove a fiduciary
  • Refusal to appoint a personal representative
  • Settling an account of a personal representative
  • Awarding attorneys’ fees and costs

It’s important to stress that the list above contains only examples of appealable decisions. In order to determine whether the order you’d like to appeal pertains to an appealable decision, you should contact a probate lawyer. Additionally, you should be aware that only final orders in probate proceedings are appealable according to the rule cited above.

Appellate Proceedings

The party who wishes to introduce an appeal against one of the appealable probate court decisions may do so within 30 days from the date the final order was issued by the probate court. The appealing party – also called the appellant – must do so in an appropriate appellate court. The appeals process is formally initiated once the appellant has filed a Notice of Appeal with the clerk court along with the required court fee.

Under the direction of the appellant, the clerk will then prepare a record on appeal, including all documents filed with the lower court, non-physical evidence, and the transcripts of the lower court proceedings. The appellant has 10 days to communicate to the clerk which documents should be included in or excluded from the record. Some appeals court may also require the appellant to prepare special statements called docketing statements which contain important information about the case on appeals such as the parties and the attorneys who represent them.

The appeals process is not a retrial of the initial order so the appeals court will not re-evaluate the facts established by the court of a lower instance. Rather, what is of interest to the appellate court is whether procedural or legal errors were made when the lower court made the initial decision. In order to establish the position of both parties in the appeal – the appellant and the respondent – the appellate court will ask them to prepare written explanations called briefs.

The appellant will prepare the initial brief explaining the reasons for filing an appeal. The respondent presents their position and defend the court’s initial decision by filing the answer brief. In the reply brief, the appellant may try to refute the arguments presented by the opposing party.

At times, the judge may order both parties to appear before the court to present oral arguments but it’s not a necessary step in all appeals proceedings. Once the appellate court reached the decision – usually after a few months since the appeal was filed – it will be announced in written form and mailed to the parties.

Work Closely With a Lawyer on Your Probate Appeals Case

Probate appeals are usually extremely complex and require not only solid litigation experience but also detailed knowledge of Florida probate laws. Therefore, in order to prevail in your appeal, you need to work closely with a skilled probate attorney.

Luis E. Barreto & Associates, P.A. are experienced probate lawyers based in Miami, FL. If you are dissatisfied with one or more decisions a probate court has taken in a case your or a family member are involved with, please contact us to schedule a case review with one of our skilled lawyers.

Luis E. Barreto