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WILLS AND TRUST 11: The court held that the probate court abused its discretion by granting appellee-successor trustee’s petitions without providing appellant the opportunity to object in accordance with MCR 5.119(B).

This case arises from the creation of the (Trust) by Decedent.   At the time the Trust was formed, Decedent chose herself as trustee, and named as residuary trust heirs her three children: including appellant.   In addition, the Trust named appellant as first successor trustee.  Decedent died on March 2, 2014, at which time appellant assumed trustee responsibilities. The probate court exercised jurisdiction over the Trust on July 9, 2015. Ultimately, the probate court suspended appellant as trustee, and appointed appellee as the new successor trustee on May 12, 2016. On May 1, 2019, appellee filed a petition to allow first, second, and final accounts. Subsequently, appellee filed a petition for full trust settlement on May 2. Appellant filed written objections on June 13, the same date in which the hearing on the petitions occurred. During the hearing, appellant’s attorney placed objections on the record. In response, the probate court stated that it would not allow Appellant’s objections at the hearing thinking it was another delay tactic. The probate court granted the petition for full trust settlement as well as the petition to allow first, second, and final accounts. Appellant now appeals to this Court.

ANALYSIS

On appeal, appellant contends that the probate court erred when it refused to hear her objections to appellee’s petition for full trust settlement in accordance with MCR 5.119(B). We agree.  This Court considers an issue of court rule interpretation as a matter of law that is reviewed de novo. Statutory interpretation principles apply to the application and interpretation of court rules. A reviewing court begins its analysis by focusing on the language of the court rule.  At issue in the present appeal is MCR 5.119, which addresses petitions, objections, and hearing practices in probate court. Specifically, MCR 5.119 provides for the following: (B) Objection to Pending Matter. An interested person may object to a pending petition orally at the hearing or by filing and serving a document which conforms with MCR 1.109(D) and MCR 5.113. Through counsel, appellant filed written objections, and presented those objections for consideration by the probate court during the June 13, 2019 hearing, as permitted by MCR 5.119(B). However, the probate court did not allow the objections.  The probate court also noted the age of the case, and alleged that appellant waited until June 13 to file objections for purposes of delay. However, the plain language of MCR 5.119 does not provide discretion to a probate court on whether to accept a party’s objections. MCR 5.119 allows for a petition and any objection to be filed, which provides the framework for a probate court to decide if additional briefing and oral arguments are necessary. In this case, the record and, in particular, the probate judge’s own words show that the probate court dismissed appellant’s June 13, 2019 oral and written objections without proper consideration. Therefore, we hold that the probate court abused its discretion when it granted appellee’s petitions without providing appellant the opportunity to object in accordance with MCR 5.119(B). We vacate the probate court’s June 13, 2019 order and remand for further proceedings. We further note that the court rule does not appear to require an evidentiary hearing on the objections raised. MCR 5.119(B) and (D) make clear that a court “may” adjourn a hearing based on an oral objection, “may” require that briefs be filed before oral argument on a petition or objection, and may “limit” oral argument on the petition or objection. We do not retain jurisdiction.

ASSISTANCE WITH WILL AND TRUST ISSUES

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Aldrich Legal Services offers comprehensive guidance throughout the probate process. We offer probate services for clients whose loved ones died with or without a will and trust.

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