Probate courts can decide all matters related to an estate, including who inherits what and how it will be divided under state law. However, if you are not satisfied with any decision made by the probate court, there may be grounds for an appeal. An individual who has lost a probate court case may be able to appeal the decision to the appellate court in the same jurisdiction that the original probate judgment was entered. Still, there are restrictions on when and how an appeal can be filed.
How do I dispute a probate?
You can dispute a probate court decision by filing an appeal in the appellate court in the same jurisdiction as the probate court. So, if the probate order you want to appeal was issued in Los Angeles, you’ll need to file your appeal in the California Court of Appeal for the Second District.
The first thing you need to determine if there is a legal basis for filing an appeal is whether or not the probate court’s decision is appealable. California Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1 allows an appeal of any “final judgment.” It also authorizes appeals from orders, for example:
- Granting or denying a motion to quash service of summons.
- Granting a motion to stay or dismiss the action on the grounds of inconvenient forum
- Granting a new trial.
- Denying a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
- Granting or dissolving an injunction.
- Granting or denying a special motion to strike (also called an “Anti-SLAPP” motion).
- Granting or denying other relief that the Legislature has determined should be immediately appealed.
Additionally,California Probate Code section1300 covers general appealable probate judgments and allows appeals from decisions entering or refusing to enter the following types of orders:
- Directing, authorizing, approving, or confirming the sale, lease, encumbrance, grant of an option, purchase, conveyance, or exchange of property.
- Settling an account of a fiduciary.
- Authorizing, instructing, or directing a fiduciary, or approving or confirming the acts of a fiduciary.
- Directing or allowing payment of a debt, claim, or cost.
- Fixing, authorizing, allowing, or directing payment of compensation or expenses of an attorney.
- Fixing, directing, authorizing, or allowing payment of the compensation or expenses of a fiduciary.
- Surcharging, removing, or discharging a fiduciary.
- Transferring the property of the estate to a fiduciary in another jurisdiction.
- Allowing or denying a petition of the fiduciary to resign.
- Discharging a surety on the bond of a fiduciary.
- Adjudicating the merits of a claim made regarding the conveyance or transfer of property.
Additionally, California Probate Code 1303 governs specific appealable orders that relate to the administration of a deceased person’s estate, which include judgments granting or refusing to grant the following orders:
- Granting or revoking letters to a personal representative, except letters of special administration or letters of special administration with general powers.
- Admitting a will to probate or revoking the probate of a will.
- Setting aside a small estate.
- Setting apart a probate homestead or property claimed to be exempt from enforcement of a money judgment.
- Granting, modifying, or terminating a family allowance.
- Determining heirship, succession, entitlement, or the persons to whom distribution should be made.
- Directing distribution of property.
- Determining that property passes to, or confirming that property belongs to, the surviving spouse.
- Authorizing a personal representative to invest or reinvest surplus money.
- Determining whether an action constitutes a contest.
- Determining the priority of debts.
- Any final order regarding proration of taxes.
While most legal proceedings can only be appealed once a “final judgment” has been entered, you can appeal in the middle of a probate case if any of the orders listed above have been entered.
Grounds to Appeal
It’s important to keep in mind that appeals are not a brand new trial; they are an opportunity for a higher court to review the probate court’s decisions for errors. This means you should notappeal a probate court decision simply because you don’t like it. Rather, you’ll need to have a strong legal or factual argument to base the appeal on.
Legal or procedural errors committed by the judge can often present strong grounds for an appeal.. You can also argue that there was insufficient evidence to support the probate court’s decision, but these types of challenges are more difficult to win.
Filing an Appeal
If you decide to file an appeal, you will need to file a notice of appeal in the superior court in the same jurisdiction that the original judgment was entered. You will also need to file an appellate brief that explains the reasons for your appeal and provides legal and factual evidence that supports your arguments.
While the exact time you have to file an appeal will vary depending on the circumstances, there will always be a deadline to meet, which will be a certain number of days from the date the appealable order is issued. This means that if an appealable order is entered in the middle of the probate proceedings, you can miss your window to appeal the decision if you wait for the case to be over. For this reason, it’s best to work with an experienced probate litigation and appellate attorney to ensure you don’t miss a deadline.
What does it mean to win an appeal?
If you win an appeal, the probate court decision will generally be reversed, either in whole or in part. Usually, the case will go back to the probate court for a decision that is consistent with the appellate judgment. However, if the probate court decision is upheld, and you’ll need to discuss with your lawyer whether appealing to an even higher court is advisable.
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