Details Matter: Probate Litigation Edition

Last year, we posted an article concerning United Bank v. Estate of Frazee, a Fourth District Court of Appeals probate case where an attorney for a creditor failed to comply with Florida’s e-filing rules.  The failure to comply with procedural rules in probate cases has once again arisen in Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals, leading to a predictable outcome.

In the recent case of Wolf v. Doll, the Fourth District Court of Appeals held that the failure to indicate that an individual was served with formal notice meant that the recipient was not precluded from pursuing a tortious interference with an expectancy claim.  Generally, an individual may not pursue an action for tortious interference with an expectancy related to a probate matter if the person had notice of the probate proceeding and an opportunity to contest the proceeding.  Thus, if the claim could be resolved in the probate matter and the person is effectively precluded from obtaining the relief in the probate matter, then the person may proceed with the collateral claim.

In this case, the defendant, Doll, petitioned the probate court for a summary administration of an estate.  Doll was required to serve formal notice of the petition to Wolf in accordance with §735.203, Florida Statutes, and Florida Probate Rule 5.040.  It was undisputed that Wolf had actual knowledge of the petition and that Doll had served notice of the petition on Wolf.  However, the certificate of service filed by Doll did not indicate that Wolf had been served with formal notice.  Accordingly, the lower court’s summary judgement ruling that Wolf had notice of the probate action was overruled.  Wolf is allowed to proceed with her lawsuit unless Doll produces evidence that Wolf was served with formal notice.