|Opinion:||In the Matter of the Estate of Davis, 2022 OK CIV APP 30|
|Date Decided:||July 22, 2022|
|Trial Court:||District Court of Coal County; Judge Inge|
|Route to this Court:||Contestant appealed from the probate court’s order sustaining the motion for summary judgment filed by the Personal Representative of the Estate of Davis.|
|Facts:||The probate court held that Contestant failed to file a petition objecting to the 2019 will within the statutory time limit of three months after the 2019 will was admitted to probate; thus, pursuant to 58 O.S. 2011 §67, the probate court lacks the jurisdiction to grant relief.|
Decedent died on September 30, 2020 and was survived by his three adult daughters. On October 26, 2020, one deceased’s daughter, Andrea, filed a petition for probate of decedent’s will, pursuant to her authority as personal representative of the estate. The petition alleged that the other two daughters’ addresses were unknown, and notice by publication of the hearing to admit will to probate was provided. At the hearing, the probate court admitted the 2019 will to probate and granted Andrea letters testamentary.
Personal Representative filed a final account and a petition for decree of distribution of the estate on April 15, 2021 and notice of publication of the hearing scheduled for May 13, 2021 was provided. The other two sisters appeared at the hearing and objected to the 2019 will. The probate court then denied Contestant’s motion and petition to vacate, holding that Contestant’s petition to contest Decedent’s 2019 will was filed after the expiration of the three-month limitation period for contesting a will set forth in 58 O.S. 2011 §67 and that the probate court lacked the jurisdiction to grant relief.
|Standard of Review:||Summary judgment proceedings are governed by Rule 13, Rules for District Courts, 12 O.S. Supp. 2013, Ch. 2, App. 1, and Oklahoma Supreme Court Rule 1.36, 12 O.S. 2013, Ch. 15, App. 1. Summary judgment is appropriate where the record establishes no substantial controversy of material fact and the prevailing party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Brown v. Alliance Real Estate Group, 1999 OK 7, ¶ 7. The Court reviewed the evidence de novo, in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Vance v. Federal Natl. Mortg. Assn., 1999 OK 73, ¶6.|
|Analysis:||Contestant’s first argument raised a question of standing. Contestant was Decedent’s brother, and he challenged the admittance of the 2019 will on the premise that the other sisters were given improper notice as required by 58 O.S. 2011 §25. Standing refers to a person’s legal right to seek relief in a judicial forum. Hendrick v. Walters, 1993 OK 162, ¶4. Relying on this definition, the Court determined that a contestant can only assert that his own interests have been injured, and not those of third parties. Therefore, under these facts, Contestant had no standing to challenge the notice provided by Personal Representative to her other two sisters.|
The second issue to be resolved was whether Contestant had standing in his own right. Under the 2019 will, Contestant has no interest because there was no property bequeathed to him in the will. To have standing to challenge the notice in a probate proceeding, a person must have an interest in the property owned by decedent at his death. Murg v. Barnsdall Nursing Home, 2005 OK 73, ¶20. Decedent was survived by his three adult daughters, and when he died he bequeathed the entire estate to his daughter, Andrea. Contestant therefore could not be an interested party entitled to notice of any hearing in this probate proceeding and he cannot be an interested party under under the laws of succession (84 O.S. 2011 §211), the Court held that Contestant lacked standing to challenge the notice provided in this probate proceeding.
In order to have standing, the Contestant needed to be successful in setting aside the order admitting the 2019 will to probate and must have convinced the probate court to admit the 2004 will. Contestant’s petition to vacate was rejected because it was untimely filed under 58 O.S. 2011 §61 and §67. Contestant had three months to contest the 2019 will admitted to probate, but he filed the petition to vacate five months after the will was admitted.
|Outcome:||The probate court’s judgment is affirmed.|
|Vote:||Goree, J., special concurring, which Downing, J. joins, and Bell, J. (author) concur.|
|Other:||Judge Goree filed a brief concurrence in which he stated a belief that Contestant did have standing to challenge the validity 2019 will regardless of his status as an “interested party.” But as the opinion correctly stated, the challenge was untimely.|