Last week, Washington’s supreme court issued its decision in In re Estate of Jepsen. The case centered on a procedural issue, involving the commencement of a will contest.
Virginia Jepsen passed away in November 2011. A month later, the superior court admitted Virginia’s will to probate, declared the estate was solvent, and appointed a personal representative (PR) with nonintervention powers. In March 2012, Virginia’s adult son Mack filed a petition to contest the validity of the will. Mack’s attorney e-mailed the petition to the PR’s attorney the same day it was filed. Nothing in the record showed that the PR affirmatively agreed to accept e-mail service on her attorney in lieu of personal service on the PR.
In October 2012, the PR filed a motion to dismiss Mack’s petition because it was not personally served within 90 days of filing. The trial court initially granted but then reversed itself on reconsideration holding that service under RCW 11.24.010 went solely to personal jurisdiction, and that the objection had been waived. The PR appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, and it was appealed to the State Supreme Court.
The supreme court decided very simply that RCW 11.24.010 is clear that personal service is required in order to commence a will contest.
The court rejected Mack’s argument that the plain language of the statute only required personal service to gain personal jurisdiction over the PR and that the PR waived any objection on that basis under CR 12(h)(1). The court differentiated between notice of and the commencement of a will contest. Washington Courts have always strictly enforced the requirements for commencing a will contest action and their holding adhering to the language of the RCW requiring personal service in order to commence a will contest action is consistent with the history of strictly enforcing the requirements.
The court also rejected Mack’s argument that RCW 11.24.010 conflicts with CONST. art. IV, § 6 and divests the superior courts of their constitutional jurisdiction over “all matters probate.” The majority disagreed, stating that the legislature may prescribe reasonable regulations without divesting the court of its jurisdiction and that RCW 11.24.010 does just that.