No Standing In Florida Probate When Status As Interested Person Is Based On Invalidated Will

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In Cruz v. Neely, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal offered a short reminder of what it means to be an interested person in a Florida probate proceeding.

In Cruz v. Neely, the appellant sought review of a distribution order entered in a Florida probate proceeding.  The personal representatives of the estate argued in a motion to dismiss that the appellant did not have standing to seek review of the distribution order, because appellant was not an interested person in the Florida probate due to the invalidation of the will that the appellant relied on to have standing.  The Florida appellate court agreed and dismissed the appeal.

When Is Someone an Interested Person In a Florida Probate?

Section 731.201(23) of the Florida Probate Code defines an “interested person” as:

[A]ny person who may reasonably be expected to be affected by the outcome of the particular proceeding involved. In any proceeding affecting the estate or the rights of a beneficiary in the estate, the personal representative of the estate shall be deemed to be an interested person. In any proceeding affecting the expenses of the administration and obligations of a decedent’s estate, or any claims described in s. 733.702(1), the trustee of a trust described in s. 733.707(3) is an interested person in the administration of the grantor’s estate. The term does not include a beneficiary who has received complete distribution. The meaning, as it relates to particular persons, may vary from time to time and must be determined according to the particular purpose of, and matter involved in, any proceedings.

No Standing As an Interested Person In Florida Probate When Status Based On Will That Has Already Been Invalidated

The Florida appeals court succinctly reviewed the requirement of standing in a probate proceeding, and the requirement of being an interested person in the probate to have standing. The Court stated:

For appellant to have standing in this Court to seek review of the Distribution Order, he must be an “interested person” as defined by chapter 731 of the Florida Statutes, Florida’s Probate Code. Section 731.201(23) of the Florida Statutes (2021) defines an “interested person” as “any person who may reasonably be expected to be affected by the outcome of the particular proceeding involved.” See also Fla. R. App. P. 9.170(b) (“[A]ppeals of orders rendered in probate . . . cases shall be limited to orders that finally determine a right or obligation of an interested person as defined in the Florida Probate Code.”).

Appellant’s claim that he is an “interested person” in this probate proceeding is based exclusively on a purported 2017 will. This 2017 will, however, was determined to be a forgery and was invalidated by the lower court’s January 15, 2021 final judgment. This January 15, 2021 final judgment was not appealed, and therefore, appellant no longer has an interest in, and will not be affected by the outcome of, any proceeding in this probate action. Because appellant is not an “interested person,” we grant appellee’s motion and dismiss appellant’s appeal for lack of standing.

The appeal was dismissed because the appellant was not an interested person, given that his standing in the Florida probate was based on a will that had already been invalidated.

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