By: Jennifer Dixon
Lowndes attorneys obtained a favorable ruling from a probate court in Lee County, Florida, on behalf of a decedent’s estate; and thereafter, secured an affirmance of the ruling from Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal. The decedent had provided in her will for certain distributions of personal property to a beneficiary. With assistance from Lowndes probate attorney, Julie Frey, the personal representative inventoried and distributed the personal property accordingly. The beneficiary acknowledged receipt of her distribution, and filed no objections to the inventory filed by the personal representatives. Several months later, however, the beneficiary filed a petition requesting an inventory and accounting.
Lowndes trial attorney, Richard Dellinger, argued to the probate court that the beneficiary no longer had standing to request an inventory and accounting because she had already received her entire distribution of personal property. Thus, pursuant to § 731.201(23) Florida Statutes, the beneficiary was no longer an “interested party” to the estate. The probate court agreed—finding that the beneficiary had not provided sufficient evidence that she was still an “interested party”—and denied the petition. An order of discharge was entered several weeks later, but the beneficiary did not timely seek an appeal. Instead, the beneficiary filed a motion to set aside the probate court’s order of discharge on the grounds that it was not served by the probate court after entry. The motion to set aside was denied, and the beneficiary timely appealed the denial of the motion to set aside.
Lowndes appellate attorney, Jennifer Dixon, defended the appeal, obtaining a per curiam affirmance in favor of the estate. Among the arguments made to the appellate court were 1) that the motion to set aside orders did not show a colorable claim for relief because it was neither verified, nor supported by affidavits; 2) that a lack of a certificate of service on a court order is not dispositive of whether the order was, in fact, served; and 3) that orders need not be served on “non-parties,” which includes beneficiaries to an estate who have already received a complete distribution. Ultimately, the appellate court found that the probate court did not abuse its discretion in declining to vacate the order of discharge, and Attorney Frey was able to proceed in closing the estate.