It seems like a simple question: when does a person become a party to probate court proceedings?  Under Georgia law, however, the answer may not be that simple.

Take the case of In re: Estate of Billy Rogers, where the decedent’s mother and cousin filed an objection to the appointment of the decedent’s wife as the temporary administrator of the estate.  When it came to their appeal of the probate court order granting the wife permanent letters of administration, however, the trial court decided that the mother and cousin were not parties to the probate court proceedings for purposes of the appeal of that order.  The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed, but let’s see where the problem arose.

The problem – that eventually turned out to not be a problem – was that the wife filed a petition for temporary letters and a petition for permanent letters.  The mother and cousin filed an objection to the petition for temporary letters, but tried to appeal the probate court’s order granting the permanent letters.  The better practice probably would have been to file an objection to both the petition for temporary letters of administration and to the petition to be appointed as permanent administrator of the estate.  But, the appellate court found that the mother and cousin sufficiently opposed the petition for permanent letters by, among other things, appearing at the hearing on permanent administration and opposing it there by calling witnesses.

In a footnote, the Court of Appeals raised what may be an unresolved question in Georgia: how one becomes a party to a probate proceeding.  The appellate court noted that there “appear to be conflicting lines of cases in our Supreme Court” on this issue.  The central question appears to be whether one becomes a party at the time a probate court serves him or her with notice of the proceeding or whether something more is required.  If there is, indeed, a conflict, it is one we anticipate the Georgia Supreme Court will eventually need to resolve.