Will Contest - Ray v. Huett


Ray v. Huett, [Ms. 1150572, Nov. 23, 2016] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2016). The Supreme Court reverses a judgment of the Tallapoosa Circuit Court in a will contest which was transferred to the circuit court from the Tallapoosa Probate Court pursuant to § 43-8-198, Ala. Code 1975. The Court concludes the circuit court had no subject-matter jurisdiction to address and construe the purported testamentary-trust provision of the will as its jurisdiction was limited to the issues expressly raised by the pleadings, namely whether the decedent had the capacity to make the will, whether it was properly executed, and whether it was the product of undue influence. Given the limited scope of jurisdiction afforded will contests by § 43-8-190, Ala. Code 1975 and the mandate in § 43-8-198 that "[t]he issues must be made up in the circuit court as if the trial were to be had in the probate court ..." the circuit court upon a § 43-8-198 transfer is limited to the trial of the issues presented by the contest and once those issues are determined the case must be certified back to the probate court under authority of Bardin v. Jones, 371 So. 2d 23 (Ala. 1979) and Jean v. Jean, 32 So. 3d 1274 (Ala. 2009). While a circuit court can in an appropriate case entertain additional issues properly raised, the present record reveals that the only issues properly before the Tallapoosa Circuit Court were whether the decedent had testamentary capacity to execute the will, whether it was properly executed, and whether there was undue influence in its execution. Since the circuit court went beyond these issues to construe the testamentary trust, it exceeded its jurisdiction such that its judgment was required to be reversed.

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