Aguilar v. Aguilar, — So.3d —-, 2009 WL 2169133 (Fla. 2d DCA Jul 22, 2009)

If you’re going to contest a will one of the first questions you have to ask yourself is "am I too late?"

If the will you want to contest has already been admitted to probate and your client’s been served with a "notice of administration," F.S. 733.212 says you’ve only got 3 months to object. But the mechanics of objecting to a will involve two basic steps: [1] filing your objections with the court and [2] serving "formal" notice of your objections on the opposing party.

In the linked-to opinion the will contestant (the decedent’s wife) filed her objections within the 3-month limitations period, but didn’t get around to serving formal notice of her objection on the other side until about 4 months later. So was she too late? According to the probate judge the answer was yes, so Wife’s objections were dismissed with prejudice. Wrong answer says the 2d DCA. Here’s why:

The Wife contends that the statute, section 733.212(3), Florida Statutes (2006), requires only the “filing” of objections within three months and that her failure to serve her motion by formal notice within the three-month deadline is not fatal to her claim. She further contends that even if service by formal notice were required within the three-month period, the Daughters waived the requirement by engaging in protracted litigation before raising their objection to the service. The Daughters respond that section 733.212 is implemented by Florida Probate Rules 5.025, 5.040, and 5.041(d), which require that an objection be served with formal notice by the three-month deadline.

Section 733.212(3) provides:

Any interested person on whom a copy of the notice of administration is served must object to the validity of the will, the qualifications of the personal representative, the venue, or the jurisdiction of the court by filing a petition or other pleading requesting relief in accordance with the Florida Probate Rules on or before the date that is 3 months after the date of service of a copy of the notice of administration on the objecting person, or those objections are forever barred.

(Emphasis added.)

The Wife’s motion was an adversary proceeding as defined in rule 5.025(a), and therefore she was required to serve formal notice pursuant to rule 5.025(d)(1). Rule 5.040 sets out the requirements for serving formal notice. It provides in subsection (a)(3)(A) that formal notice shall be served “by sending a copy by any commercial delivery service requiring a signed receipt or by any form of mail requiring a signed receipt.” Rule 5.041(d) governs filing and provides that “[a]ll original papers shall be filed either before service or immediately thereafter.”

None of these rules contain a time requirement for serving formal notice. Further, the trial court’s conclusion that section 733.212(3) requires service of formal notice within three months is erroneous because the statute requires only the “filing” of objections within three months after the notice of administration is served. It does not require both filing and service of formal notice within the three-month period. It is undisputed that the Wife’s motion was timely filed. We therefore reverse the order dismissing the Wife’s motion and direct that it be reinstated.