Probate Case Exception to a Final Judgment Rule

In Janine vs. McAfee, the parties argued over who should be the administrator of an estate. No. 01-20-00717-CV, 2021 Texas App. LEXIS 10101 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] December 23, 2021, no pets. the story). A man and woman divorced in 1983 and signed a post-divorce settlement agreement that sought to divide their assets. The man died in 1997 and his sister was his executor. The woman died in 2011 and her daughter became the executor of her estate. The daughter sued on behalf of the wife’s estate regarding the ownership of certain assets. The man’s sister was elderly and his daughter became the successor administrator of his estate. Then the man’s granddaughter intervened in the man’s estate and filed a motion to set aside the appointment of the executor’s daughter as successor administrator and filed a motion without evidence for summary judgment, alleging that she should be named successor administrator. The trial court denied both motions and an appeal ensued.

The Court of Appeal held that it had no jurisdiction over either order. Regarding jurisdiction, the court held:

The probate procedure, however, presents “an exception to the ‘single final judgment’ rule.[.]” “[I]In such cases, “several final judgments for appeal may be rendered on certain separate issues”. This exception reflects the need to review “intermediate decisions of control before an error can harm the subsequent phases of the procedure[.]'” The Texas Supreme Court in From Ayala against Mackie, 193 SW3d 575, 578 (Tex. 2006) reaffirmed the purpose of prescriptions test in probate proceedings first adopted in Crowson v. Wakeham, 897 SW2d 779, 783 (Texas 1995). The Court in De Ayala explained: “If there is an express law, such as that of judgment of complete inheritance, declaring the phase of the probate procedure final and subject to appeal, that law prevails. Alternatively, if there is a proceeding of which the order in question can logically be considered a part, but one or more pleadings also part of that proceeding raise questions or undecided parts, then the order of homologation is interlocutory.

ID. Regarding the motion for summary judgment, the court held that the dismissal of the motion did not resolve an issue:

The Probate Court ultimately ruled Alma “[had] raised genuine issues of material fact and that the motion for summary judgment without evidence of nominee, Natalie Janine Garnes, should be dismissed. So, because the probate court found that there were genuine questions of material fact, the question regarding Natalie’s qualification to serve as the independent administrator of Carl’s estate has not been finally determined. Indeed, there is nothing in the record to indicate that the probate court ruled on Natalie’s nomination request.

ID.

With respect to the motion to vacate, the court also held that the order did not resolve one issue:

Although the probate court’s denial of Natalie’s motion to vacate means that Alma cannot be removed due to an alleged lack of notice, a question remains as to whether Alma should be removed and Natalie appointed to her place based on Natalie’s assertion she has a superior right to be named as the successor dependent administrator of Carl’s estate under Sections 304.001 and 361.103 of the Texas Estates Code and the assertion of Alma that Natalie is unfit to serve, an issue that was not resolved by the probate court’s decision on Natalie’s motion for summary judgment.

Identifier.

Lance B. Holton