What Probate Disputes Do Appellate Courts Review?

After someone passes away, the probate court is the venue where their estate is settled, and their will is verified and executed. During this process, there are many different types of decisions the judge must make.  If you believe that a decision the probate court made was erroneous, you may be able to file an appeal in the superior court in the same jurisdiction where the probate order was issued. However, under California law, only certain orders can be appealed. 

California Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1 allows an appeal of any “final judgment.” It also authorizes appeals from orders:

  • 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 section 1300 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. 

Usually, you can only file an appeal once a court issues a “final order.” However, probate cases are different. You don’t have to wait until the case is totally decided; rather, you can appeal amidst the proceedings if an appealable order is issued. 

Is it hard to win a probate appeal?

It can be very challenging to win a probate appeal, but you can succeed if you have a strong argument.

Part of what makes probate appeals so tricky is that the appellate court does not conduct a brand new trial. Instead, the appeals court will review the probate court proceedings to determine if the judge committed an error. Unfortunately, disagreeing with the decision does not give your grounds to appeal it. You must identify a specific legal or factual mistake that was made. 

However, pointing out a mistake is, on its own, not enough to succeed in an appeal. You must be able to show that the error was “prejudicial.” This means that the mistake must have made a difference in the decision that was made. If the appellate court agrees with you that the probate judge made a mistake but decides that it didn’t harm your case, your appeal will be denied in most circumstances. 

Given the high burden of proof that you must meet to successfully challenge a probate court decision, it’s vital that you partner with an experienced probate appeal attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer can help you identify grounds for a possible appeal and advise you on your chances of success. An attorney can also guide you through the appeals process, uncover additional facts that support your case, and present your arguments to the appellate court on your behalf. 

Have questions? We’re happy to discuss.

Call (424) 320-9444 or email [email protected]

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About RMO, LLP

RMO LLP provides personal and efficient inheritance dispute services to individual and institutional clients. The firm’s attorneys focus on probate litigation involving contested trust, estate, probate, and conservatorship matters. Serving California and Texas, with offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Orange County, San Diego, Fresno, the Bay Area, Dallas, and Houston. For more information, please visit https://rmolawyers.com/.

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About the Author

Scott Rahn, Founding Partner

Scott Rahn resolves contests, disputes and litigation related to trusts, estates and conservatorships, creating a welcome peace of mind for clients. He represents heirs, beneficiaries, trustees and executors. He utilizes his experience to develop and implement strategies that swiftly and efficiently address the financial issues, fiduciary duties and emotional complexities underlying trust contests, estates conflicts and probate litigation.

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