Notice to Heirs and Interested Parties — Time to Contest
In most states including Florida, after the petition for probate is filed, the Probate Court will order that notice of the petition be given to the heirs and other “interested” parties (those who may not be heirs but who may be named in the will) and, in some cases, that “publication” must be made. Publication is the placing of legal notice in the local newspaper to the effect that John Smith, a resident of Jacksonville, Florida, has died and a petition has been submitted to the court asking that his wife Jane be appointed as the executrix (or administratrix if there was no will) of his estate. The publication will also suggest that if you wish to object to the allowance of this petition, you or your attorney should file an appearance on or before a certain date. In those states that require notice, this designated date (sometimes called the “return date”) is very important because if no objections to the petition are received by that date, the court will allow the petition. This does not mean if you miss the date or later discover that you should have objected that you cannot, but an objection filed after the date designated by the court as the “deadline” will be accepted by the court only if there was a good reason for the failure to file the objection within the allowed time. If adequate notice is not given as required by the state’s laws, no probate may be allowed.
About a third of our states take the reverse approach and immediately allow the petition for probate and appointment of executor as soon as the will is filed, without notice to the beneficiaries. This does not mean, however, that no one can object. In fact, in those states that allow the will without notice, a person who wishes to contest the will or the appointment of an executor often has a much longer period within which to do so-usually until the estate is settled and the executor is discharged by the court.
In those states where notice and/or publication is required, the information in the newspaper publication will also be sent directly to you if you are an heir or an interested party in the estate. Obviously it must be sent to you sufficiently before the return date to give you adequate time to object to the allowance of the petition if you wish to do so.
The filing of an objection to either the allowance of the will or the appointment of the executor (or administrator) is surprisingly simple. All you (or your attorney) need to do to begin the contest is notify the court that you object. That’s it. A simple letter to the appropriate court would suffice, saying something such as, “I object to the allowance of the petition of Jane Smith requesting that a certain document be allowed as John Smith’s will and that Jane Smith be appointed as Executrix,” (signed), Jesse smith. Naturally, you will at some point ,.from thirty to sixty days in some states, much longer in others) be required to specify just what it is you object to and why, and the laws at this stage begin to be somewhat more complex, so it would be foolhardy to attempt to go much beyond this point without an experienced lawyer. Judges are generally not sympathetic to people who try to represent themselves in will contests.