When a lower court makes a final decision in a case, persons affected by the decision may have the right to appeal to a higher court. In Michigan probate court litigation, jurisdiction over appeals rests with the Michigan Court of Appeals, which is an intermediate appellate court. An adverse decision in the Court of Appeals can only be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court if that court grants permission for the appeal, which rarely happens.
An appeal does not mean a new trial or a new hearing. The appellate court reviews a case based on the record created in the probate court. The appellant (person filing the appeal) must provide reasons for the appeals court to reach a different decision from that of the lower court. Without representation by an experienced appellate lawyer, an aggrieved party will find it difficult to navigate and succeed in an appeal from a probate court decision.
The Michigan Supreme Court adopts Rules of Court that establish uniform procedures for the state’s judicial system. A specific rule, MCR 5.801, governs appeals from probate court decisions. The rule provides that “A party or an interested person aggrieved by a final order of the probate court may appeal as a matter of right as provided by this rule.”
Subsection (A) of the rule includes an extensive list of the types of probate court decisions appealable by right to the Court of Appeals. They include a wide range of matters relating to wills, estates, trusts, fiduciaries, and protected individuals. Under subsection (B), probate court matters not on the list are appealable only with permission of the Court of Appeals.
The appeal process is governed by rules in Chapter 7 of the Michigan Court Rules. The rules establish a detailed and complex procedure for Court of Appeals cases. The process for an appeal by right, discussed below, differs from an appeal for which permission of the Court of Appeals is required. Navigating the court rules is an important reason why assistance from an experienced appellate lawyer is essential for filing an appeal.
An appeal by right from a probate court decision begins with filing a Claim of Appeal with the Court. The appeal must be filed within 21 days of the date of the final order from the probate court, unless a different period is provided by law for the type of case. Copies of the filing must be served on all other parties in the case.
The Claim of Appeal must meet specific requirements set forth in the court rules. The appellant also is responsible for providing a transcript of the lower court proceedings. The probate court sends the entire record of the case to the Court of Appeals as part of the appeal process, including all pleadings, filings, documents, and exhibits.
The appellant and appellee present their arguments to the Court of Appeals judges in a brief, which is a written document describing the case and discussing the legal reasons for challenging the decision of the probate court. Generally, the appellate court decides only the legal issues set forth in the briefs.
After the Court of Appeals receives all documentation relating to the case, the parties have an opportunity to present oral argument to a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals. Each side addresses the panel for 15 minutes. No witnesses are permitted.
When all stages of the appeal process have been completed, the Court of Appeals reviews the documentation and then issues a written opinion that rules on the legal issues raised by the appellant and appellee. The opinion either affirms or modifies the probate court’s decision. The appellate court ruling may be final, or it may send the case back to probate court for further proceedings consistent with the appellate opinion.
Filing an appeal from a decision of the probate court can be an expensive, lengthy, and complex process. In many cases, appellate court review does not change the probate court’s final decision, although some appeals do change the result of a case. Successes of our probate litigation attorneys at BRMM in the Court of Appeals include a landmark case involving Medicaid planning, a matter involving interpretation of a trust agreement, a significant elder law case, and a landmark trust case.
Several factors should be considered in deciding whether to appeal a probate court decision. First, the appellant must have a legal basis for challenging the probate court’s decision regarding the facts of the case and the legal conclusions based on those facts. An experienced appellate lawyer can provide an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the legal reasons that may support an appeal in a specific case.
Even though an appeal is based on the written record and documentation provided to the appellate court, rather than on evidence and witnesses introduced in a hearing or trial, there is a substantial amount of work involved in pursuing an appeal. As such, an appeal can be expensive to pursue. Expenses include filing fees and court costs, the cost of procuring the transcript of the probate court proceedings, and the fees for an attorney to prepare and file the appeal documents and argue the case.
Finally, the Court of Appeals process for a probate court appeal can be lengthy. It is not unusual for the entire process to take at least 18 months from start to finish. An appeal is not a quick way to resolve concerns about a probate court decision.
Before you decide to appeal a probate court decision, you should discuss your case with your lawyer or with an attorney experienced in appeals from probate court decisions. Then you can be confident that you took all the appropriate considerations into account before making your decision.
Our probate litigation lawyers at BRMM have extensive experience and success in appeals from probate court decisions. Call us at (248) 494-4577 to talk with us about appealing from a probate court decision or other areas of concern. We serve clients in Troy, Oakland County, and surrounding areas, as well as out-of-state clients with estate and probate matters arising in Michigan.