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In re Estate of Singleton

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

September 21, 2017

IN THE ESTATE OF BOBBY SINGLETON, DECEASED

          Submitted: September 12, 2017

         On Appeal from the County Court at Law Bowie County, Texas Trial Court No. 41, 426-CCL

          Before Morriss, C.J., Moseley and Burgess, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Josh R. Morriss, III Chief Justice.

         In December 2014, Dorothy Johnson applied to be named Independent Administrator of the relatively modest decedent's estate of Bobby Ray Singleton, who had died apparently without a will and as a still-single widower. In late March 2016, at least in part supported by various affidavits apparently sponsored by Johnson, the County Court at Law of Bowie County entered two orders, one appointing Johnson as Dependent Administrator of the Estate of Bobby Singleton, Deceased, and the other declaring that Singleton had died intestate, leaving a single heir, his son, Jahsaun Arnett. Johnson promptly signed an oath of office as Dependent Administrator and thus qualified for that office.

         During the next year, Johnson and Arnett apparently became estranged.

         Just over a year after the 2016 orders, on April 6, 2017, after Arnett and Johnson had become adversaries in the court, the trial court entered its order reciting, again, that Arnett was the sole heir, finding that Arnett had turned eighteen years of age and was therefore an adult, finding that there were no claims approved against the estate, finding that the estate had certain specific assets but no debts, vesting title to the estate assets in Arnett, and closing the estate.

         Johnson, joined by her husband, David Johnson, appeal, complaining of three allegedly improper actions of the trial court: (A) ordering a dependent administration, (B) declaring Arnett to be the sole heir, and (C) denying the Johnson creditor's claim against the Estate. We affirm the trial court's actions, because (1) we are without jurisdiction to review the order granting a dependent administration or the order naming Arnett the sole heir and (2) to the extent other cognizable issues urged by Johnson can be discerned by this Court, they fail.

         (1) We Are Without Jurisdiction to Review the Order Granting a Dependent Administration or the Order Naming Arnett the Sole Heir

         Johnson's appellate challenges to the order for a dependent administration and to the order declaring Arnett as the sole heir must fail here, because those issues must have been challenged on appeal in 2016, within the time for appeal after they were decided by the trial court. Here, the trial court signed, on March 30, 2016, both its Judgment Declaring Heirship, which named Arnett as the sole heir, and its Order Granting Letters of Administration, which ordered the dependent administration. As explained below, the two 2016 orders were final and appealable when rendered, and an attempted appeal of those orders that is filed in excess of one year later comes too late.

         In an ordinary appeal, a "notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days after the judgment is signed, " except under one of the exceptions set out by Rule 26.1 of the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, none of which are applicable here. See Tex. R. App. P. 26.1. If an appeal is late, the court of appeals is without jurisdiction to hear that appeal. Thomas v. Davis, 553 S.W.2d 624, 626 (Tex. 1977). Generally, appeals may be taken only from final judgments. De Ayala v. Mackie, 193 S.W.3d 575, 578 (Tex. 2006).

         When dealing with decedents' estates, however, there may be more than one final, appealable judgment. Id. "A final order issued by a probate court is appealable to the court of appeals." Tex. Est. Code Ann. § 32.001(c) (West 2014).

         Over the years, the question of when a court order in a decedent's estate is final and appealable has not been entirely clear in all cases. See De Ayala, 193 S.W.3d at 578; see also Crowson v. Wakeham, 897 S.W.2d 779, 783 (Tex. 1995). If a statute expressly declares an order ending a particular phase of a probate case to be final, the statute controls. De Ayala, 193 S.W.3d at 578; Crowson, 897 S.W.2d at 783. If, however, there is no governing statutory declaration of finality, a probate order is considered final and appealable if the order effectively disposes of a proceeding within, or a particular phase of, the probate case; otherwise, it is interlocutory. De Ayala, 193 S.W.3d at 578; Crowson, 897 S.W.2d at 783.

         "The judgment in a proceeding to declare heirship is a final judgment." Tex. Est. Code Ann. § 202.202(a) (West 2014). Such a judgment is subject to the same time limits for appeal as other probate judgments. Tex. Est. Code Ann. § 202.202(b) (West 2014). Therefore, the March 2016 order determining that Arnett was the sole heir of Singleton was final and appealable. See Young v. First Cmty. Bank, N.A.,222 S.W.3d 454, 456 (Tex. App-Houston ...


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