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When an 11th hour change to a woman’s will replaced one heir with two new heirs, the spurned beneficiary challenged the probated will (and its changes).  According to the original beneficiary, the two people who replaced the original beneficiary as the woman’s heirs had used undue influence, fraud, and committed a number of other sins in order to get the decedent to change who would benefit from her estate.  However, because the will contest failed to name each of the twenty-some different people who should have been part of the lawsuit contesting the will, the two replacement beneficiaries asked the court to dismiss the will contest… which the court did.  And yet, the replacement beneficiaries later had to ask the Alabama Supreme Court to reinstate that order… which it did in Ex parte Cheimelewsky.

Late Request to Reconsider Dooms Will Contest

Thirty-one days after the court issued its order dismissing the will contest, the original beneficiary asked the court to reconsider its decision – essentially a request that the trial court change its mind – which it did!  However, because the request on the thirty-first day was one day late, the replacement beneficiaries were able to challenge’s the trial court’s flip-flop and convince the Alabama Supreme Court to enforce the original order dismissing the will contest.

Deadlines Matter to Appellate Courts

We previously reported an instance where the Alabama Supreme Court allowed a late filed appeal.  But that case and those like it are the exceptions to an otherwise bright line rule: If there’s a deadline, you can’t be late. Here the deadline wasn’t one to appeal, but one asking the court to change its decision – to change it’s mind and amend the order.  The two rules are related. If a timely “change your mind” motion is filed, it extends the deadline to appeal by up to 90 days.   But what happens when the court rules on your late motion?

Court Lost Jurisdiction on Day 31

Even though the original beneficiary’s motion was filed a day late, the trial court still granted the motion.  According to the trial court, it vacated the order that had dismissed the will contest.  From appearances then, it looked like the original beneficiary had won the battle and would be allowed to fight about whether the replacement beneficiaries had indeed used undue influence or fraud to get the woman to change the beneficiary of her will.  Alas, the Alabama Supreme Court did not agree.  According to the Supreme Court, the trial court lost jurisdiction over the case at the end of the 30th day.  On day 31, it had no power to change its own order.  Had the original beneficiary wanted to challenge the order after day 30, it should have appealed instead of asking the trial court to change its mind.

Final Order Even Where One Party Left Out

Only final orders can be appealed.  The original beneficiary – after the replacement beneficiaries appealed argued that no deadlines had been passed because the trial court’s order dismissing the will contest only names one of the two parties.  The argument failed to carry the day.  If a trial court’s order tries to dispose of of a case with a final judgment, and states why it’s disposing of a case with a final judgment, it’s a final judgment.  The failure to put one party’s name on the order will not convert a final judgment into a non-final judgment.

How to Preserve Your Appellate Rights:

  1. Consult an appellate lawyer who can advise you about the deadlines;
  2. Be wary of the deadline to ask a trial court to change its mind – usually 30 days;
  3. Know your appellate deadlines – sometimes 7, sometimes 14, sometimes 42 days;
  4. Different states have different deadlines, different courts or administrative bodies have different deadlines; and
  5. Don’t wait.  The most effective way preserve your appellate rights is to act as soon as you get your order.

What to do After You’ve Lost Your Case:

If you’ve recently lost an Alabama case, check out the Alabama Judicial System’s website for general information.  Contact Browne House Law about bringing one of its lawyers on board to help you.  Read Ex parte Cheimelewsky here.