Thomas v. Thomas, — So.3d —-, 2010 WL 391833 (Fla. 5th DCA Feb 05, 2010)

There are certain key milestones in a probate proceeding where Florida’s probate rules build in ultra-short limitations periods designed to bring disputes to a head quickly or forever bar them. One of those milestones is when the personal representative files his final accounting. Probate Rule 5.401 says that anyone wanting to object to a final accounting has only 30 days to file an objection, and 90 days from the filing of the objection in which to serve a notice of hearing. Miss those deadlines and you’re out of luck, no matter how legitimate your objections may be. Here are the relevant portions of Rule 5.401:

Rule 5.401. Objections to . . . Final Accounting

(a) Objections. An interested person may object to the . . . final accounting within 30 days after the service of the later of the . . . final accounting on that interested person.

*     *     *

(d) Hearing on Objections. Any interested person may set a hearing on the objections. Notice of the hearing shall be given to all interested persons. If a notice of hearing on the objections is not served within 90 days of filing of the objections, the objections shall be deemed abandoned and the personal representative may make distribution as set forth in the plan of distribution.

In the linked-to opinion the parties objecting to the final accounting argued that because the accounting wasn’t complete, it didn’t count as a “final” accounting, so Rule Rule 5.401’s ultra-short limitations periods didn’t apply. Clever, but no cigar. The probate judge didn’t buy this argument, and neither did the 5th DCA. Here’s how the 5th DCA explained its ruling:

On December 3, 2008, the court entered a final judgment granting .  .  .  the motion to strike the objection to the final accounting. The Appellee argues that the court based its ruling on the fact that the objection to the final accounting was not timely filed. That is, the accounting was filed June 16, 2006, and the objection was not filed until October 12, 2006, well beyond the 30 days in which to object as provided by rule 5.401(a).

Appellants contend that the final accounting filed in this case was not complete and, therefore, it was not a final accounting. The Appellants cite no authority for their position and this Court disagrees.

It is clear that a final accounting was filed June 19, 2006, and if infirmities in the final accounting existed, the Appellants had 30 days in which to file an objection, and 90 days from the filing of the objection in which to have a hearing. They did neither. The court found that the objection was waived.

But Wait, There’s More!

I received a comment to this blog post from über probate litigator Brian Felcoski. He makes an important point that goes to the 5th DCA’s construction of the rule’s 90-day requirement.

Hi Juan. I saw your post concerning the Thomas decision. The language in the decision suggesting one needs to have a hearing within 90 days from filing the objection to accounting does not appear to be consistent with Florida Probate Rule 5.401. The language of the rule speaks to service of the notice of hearing and not the actual hearing itself. The committee notes reflect that (d) was amended “to clarify that 90-day period pertains to service of hearing notice, not the actual hearing date.” You might want to make an editor’s note on your probate litigation blog to make your readers aware of this issue. I am copying Tae Bronner, Chair of the Section’s probate law and procedure committee, and asking that her committee review the issue and determine if action is warranted to clarify the rule further. Best regards. Brian Felcoski