McCormick v. McCormick, --- So.2d ----, 2008 WL 4377136 (Fla. 1st DCA Sep 29, 2008)
Florida probate judges are given a great deal of latitude when making calls on how an estate should be administered. But there's one estate-administration issue over which their authority is severely limited: whether or not to appoint the personal representative nominated in a decedent's will. For some reason this bit of Florida law is often overlooked [click here, here].
But what if a different PR is appointed before the decedent's will is found? Does the originally appointed PR get to stay on even if he's not the person nominated in the decedent's later-discovered will? You can see why a well-intentioned probate judge might be tempted to leave well enough alone. If the originally-appointed PR is doing a tolerably good job, why upset the apple-cart by booting him out midway through the estate administration and appointing his allegedly discombobulated half-brother for no other reason than he's the guy nominated as PR in the decedent's will?
In the linked-to opinion the probate court decided to leave well enough alone and was reversed for doing so; underscoring, once again, the amount of deference Florida law gives to a person's choice of personal representative. Unless the nominated PR is disqualified as a matter of law: he's in, end of story. Here's how the 1st DCA stated the point:
As provided by section 733.301(1)(a), Florida Statutes (1999), when granting letters of administration, the probate court shall, in testate estates, allow preference to the personal representative nominated by the will. “Nothing in section 733.301(1)(a) purports to vest discretion in the trial courts to disregard the preference there specified, as long as the personal representative nominated by the decedent is statutorily qualified to serve.” Warner v. Estate of McCloskey, 943 So.2d 1007, 1008 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006).
We acknowledge that during the hearing below, counsel for appellee advanced arguments that appellant should not be appointed to act as personal representative due to allegations of certain conduct by appellant after the death of McCormick, Sr. The probate court did not, however, base its order upon any ground other than the timeliness of appellant's counter-petition for administration. This ground, as we have previously observed, is not valid. Pursuant to section 733.301(6), Florida Statutes (1999):
After letters have been granted in either a testate or an intestate estate, if any will is subsequently admitted to probate the letters shall be revoked and new letters granted as provided in subsection (1).
Accordingly, we find that the controlling statutes anticipate a situation such as occurred in the present case. Although letters of administration issued during administration of an apparently intestate estate, such letters must be revoked “when a later discovered will is admitted to probate.” Fouraker v. Carter, 507 So.2d 749, 750 (Fla. 5th DCA 1987). “Upon admission of the will, the personal representative nominated by the will is entitled to preference of appointment.” Id.