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The Rights of Caveators Must Be Determined Before Admitting Will to Probate

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In Platt v. Osteen, Platt, a beneficiary under decedent Martin S. Day’s will, appealed an order admitting Day’s Will to probate and appointing Sharon Day Osteen as personal representative. 
The sequence of events occurred as follows:  Osteen filed a petition for administration of Day’s Will.  Platt filed a caveat, followed by an answer and objection to administration of the Will.  Next, without notice to Platt, the Florida probate court entered an order admitting Day’s Will to probate, erroneously finding that no objection had been made.  Platt appealed the order admitting the Will and appointing Osteen as personal representative.  The Florida appellate court reversed, finding that the Florida probate court was required to determine whether Platt had standing to contest the will, and, if so, to adjudicate Platt’s challenge to the will before taking any action on the petition for administration.  In so ruling, the Florida appellate court, citing a Florida treatise, stated: 
“After the filing of a caveat by an interested person other than a creditor, the court may not admit a will of the decedent to probate or appoint a personal representative without service of formal notice on the caveator or the caveator’s designated agent.  [Fla. Prob. R. 5.260(f).]  Thus, if a caveat is filed, a formal notice of the submission of a will for probate must be given, and the court must thereafter adjudicate any challenge to the will before admitting the will to probate.”
So, what is a caveat?  A caveat is a document filed with the probate court to provide notice to the court that there is an interested party who wants to be notified if an estate is opened.  It allows a beneficiary or creditor to receive notice of a petition for administration without having to open a probate administration themselves.  Caveats are often filed by potential estate beneficiaries or creditors to notify them if a probate estate is opened.  A potential beneficiary can even file a caveat prior to the death of the individual.  A creditor must wait until the individual passes away.
As the Florida appellate court stated, a caveat prevents a nominated personal representative from opening a probate estate without notifying the person who filed the caveat.  Under Florida law, if a caveat is not filed, a person nominated as personal representative in a will can admit the will to probate in Florida without prior notice to other interested persons. 
By filing a caveat and lodging objections prior to appointment of the personal representative, the nominated personal representative will usually be prohibited from using estate funds to fight the will contest.  In addition, a caveat also prevents untrustworthy beneficiaries from making misrepresentations to the court without a chance for the person who filed the caveat to contest the will prior to the admission of the will to probate. 

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