The Orphans’ Court directed the personal representative to distribute the partnership interests to the decedent’s brother who was her heir-at-law as an intestate distribution. The significant other, in his capacity as personal representative but not individually, made a timely appeal of the court’s order directing the distribution.
The Court of Special Appeals dismissed the appeal. First, the Court held that the personal representative is not the aggrieved party and has no basis upon which to appeal a direction to distribute. The purported intended legatee is the party in interest, not the personal representative. Buchwald v. Buchwald, 175 Md. 103 (1938); Surratt v. Knight, 162 Md. 14 (1932).
The personal representative’s fallback argument was that the order was not a final order. If this were true, then the significant other as the intended legatee instead of as personal representative could still perfect an appeal. Otherwise, the time to appeal had closed.
The Court in Estate of Kirsch delineates how finality is defined in Orphans’ Court matters as opposed to the broader world of civil litigation. “In probate proceedings, ‘the need for judicial adjudicative intervention is frequently intermittent and only on a very ad hoc basis.’ For this very reason, the definition of a ‘final judgment’ in an Orphans’ Court proceeding is unlike the definition used in ordinary civil litigation. The proper time to challenge the distribution of an asset is when the Orphans’ Court orders the distribution, not when all accounts are ultimately settled.” Est. of Kirsch, quoting Banashak v. Wittstadt, 167 Md.App. 627 (2006)(internal citations omitted). This is quite different from the definition of final judgment in ordinary civil litigation. Judge Moylan “drew a distinction between ordinary civil litigation, which typically ends in a decisive (or ‘apocalyptic’) judgment that resolves all claims involving all parties, and the ‘fundamentally different legal environment of Orphans’ Court litigation, in which ‘adjudicative decisions as to bits and pieces of the larger enterprise may be the only court judgments ever rendered.'” Estate of Kirsch quoting, again, Banashak. In Kirsch, many subsiding issues remained between the parties but the order for distribution nevertheless constituted a final order for the purposes of the appeal.