APRIL 5, 2004 VOLUME 11, NUMBER 40
A Florida court found Alvarado Kelly incompetent in 1960, and appointed a guardian to manage his property. Fifteen years later Mr. Kelly moved to a facility in Mississippi operated by Sarah Cuevas; he lived in that facility until his death twenty five years later. After his death Mr. Kelly’s brother William and Ms. Cuevas became embroiled in a legal dispute involving the courts of both states.
Mr. Kelly had signed a will while he lived in Mississippi, and he had named Ms. Cuevas as executrix (what we in Arizona would call “personal representative”). Shortly after his death Ms. Cuevas filed the will for probate with the Mississippi courts, gave notice to William Kelly as the next of kin, and secured a court order appointing her as executrix and finding the will to be Mr. Kelly’s valid will.
William Kelly then filed a proceeding in the Florida courts. He acknowledged that there had been a finding in Mississippi, but he argued that it was invalid both because he had not actually participated and because his brother had never been a resident of Mississippi.
William Kelly argued that since his brother had been adjudged incompetent and the Florida courts had never given specific permission for him to relocate to Mississippi, he remained a resident of Florida for the rest of his life. He also insisted that the will was invalid because Ms. Cuevas had exercised undue influence.
Ms. Cuevas filed a motion to dismiss the Florida probate, but the Florida court agreed with William Kelly that her appointment by the Mississippi court was invalid. A Florida bank was appointed as personal representative of Mr. Kelly’s estate and authorized to collect his assets.
The Florida Court of Appeals reversed the probate court’s decision, however. In doing so, it relied partly on the U.S. Constitution, which requires the courts of each state to give “full faith and credit” to the courts of sister states in most situations.
In this case, ruled the appellate court, Ms. Cuevas had given William Kelly notice of the pending Mississippi proceedings, and an opportunity to file pleadings and present his argument that any proceedings should be in Florida. When the Mississippi court admitted Mr. Kelly’s will to probate it made a determination that he was domiciled in Mississippi; if William Kelly disagreed with that conclusion he needed to make his argument in Mississippi, rather than just filing his own proceeding in Florida. Cuevas v. Kelly, March 26, 2004.
Mr. Kelly’s probate proceedings provide an interesting illustration of the “full faith and credit” clause of the Constitution, and of its application to probate proceedings. It also demonstrates that it is unwise to ignore the proceedings in another state, hoping to later file a competing action in a more friendly jurisdiction.
December, 2005, update: In a related case in the Mississippi courts, that state’s Court of Appeals ruled that probate proceedings were proper in Mississippi. William Kelly, the decedent’s brother, had argued in the Mississippi proceedings that there was no jurisdiction for a probate there, since (he insisted) all of Alvarado Kelly’s assets necessarily belonged in Florida where he had resided when he had last been competent to select a residence. The Mississippi chancery court (where probate proceedings are tried) had ruled that it would be “impossible” to imagine that Alvarado Kelly had lived in Mississippi for thirty years without accumulating clothing or other personal items. His death in Mississippi, coupled with the existence of any assets at all, gave Mississippi courts jurisdiction over his estate, and the Court of Appeals agrees that those probate proceedings were properly initiated. In the Matter of Estate of Kelly, December 6, 2005.