A probate estate may be re-opened after it has been closed and the personal representative has been discharged for several reasons.
If assets are discovered after an estate is closed, the estate may be reopened to probate the recently discovered assets. See, e.g., Continental Motors, Inc. v. Rosenthal, 278 So. 3d 247 (Fla. 3d DCA 2019).
Florida law governs the reopening of closed estate. Florida Probate Rule 5.460, states
- Petition. If, after an estate is closed, additional property of the decedent is discovered or if further administration of the estate is required for any other reason, any interested person may file a petition for further administration of the estate. The petition shall be filed in the same probate file as the original administration.
- Contents. The petition shall state:
- the name, address, and interest of the petitioner in the estate;
- the reason for further administration of the estate;
- the description, approximate value, and location of any asset not included among the assets of the prior administration; and
- a statement of the relief sought.
- Order. The court shall enter such orders as appropriate. Unless required, the court need not revoke the order of discharge, reissue letters, or require bond.
Probate cannot be reopened due to new or later will
Importantly, an estate may not be reopened based solely on the discovery of a new will or a will purportedly executed after the will that was administered. Section 733.903, Florida Statutes, titled Subsequent administration, states:
The final settlement of an estate and the discharge of the personal representative shall not prevent further administration. The order of discharge may not be revoked based upon the discovery of a will or later will.
Additionally, Section 733.208, Florida Statutes, titled Discovery of a later will, states:
On the discovery of a later will or codicil, any interested person may petition to revoke the probate of the earlier will or to probate the later will or codicil. No will or codicil may be offered after the testate or intestate estate has been completely administered and the personal representative discharged.
An older version of Fla. State § 733.208 created some confusion as to whether this prohibition on reopening estates when a new or later will or codicil was discovered, which applied to intestate estates (estates that were administered for decedent who died without a will), in addition to testate estates.
In 1984, the District Court of Appeal for the Second District of Florida, clarified this confusion and held that no proceedings are permitted “upon the discovery of a later will or unknown will after the termination of probate and the discharge of the personal representative in either testate or intestate proceedings.” In re Estate of Killinger, 448 So. 2d. 1187, 1189 (Fla. 2d DCA 1984) (emphasis added). In Killinger, the Court reviewed decades of legislative history and earlier iterations of the statute to reach its conclusion. The statute was amended after this decision to alleviate any uncertainty as to this prohibition.
What if I was excluded from the summary administration distribution?
In Wallace v. Watkins, adopted children who were not provided notice of a probate proceeding initiated an action to reopen probate. Wallace v. Watkins, 253 So. 3d 1204 (Fla. 5th DCA 2018). Decedent’s biological daughter previously obtained an order of summary administration for a parcel of real property. The adopted children sought to reopen the estate under Fla. Stat. § 735.206(g), which states:
[a]ny heir or devisee of the decedent who was lawfully entitled to share in the estate but who was not included in the order of summary administration and distribution may enforce all rights in appropriate proceedings against those who procured the order and, if successful, shall be awarded reasonable attorney’s fees as an element of costs.
The District Court of Appeal for the Fifth District affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the estate should be reopened. Wallace, 253 So. 3d at 1207.
To better understand your rights when additional assets are located, please call the probate lawyers at Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun, LLP at (561) 626-2101 or toll free (800) 226-1484 for a free consultation about your potential will contest, trust, or estate.