The process of challenging a Letter of Administration filed or issued by the Probate Registrar of the High Court of a State is regulated by the Administration of Estate Law of various States of the Federation and the High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules of each State of the Federation. The process of challenging a letter of administration commences through filing a court process known as "CAVEAT" at the Probate Registry of the High Court.
Letters of administration are granted to personal representatives of a deceased person, which give rise to the power of these representatives to distribute the estate of a deceased to the beneficiaries and to forestall the properties from being inherited by persons who the deceased would not ordinarily wish to inherit his estate. Before letters of administration can be issued to administrators by the Probate Registry, there is a checklist of procedures that must be duly complied with. Challenging a letter of administration is a free right and it forms part of the procedures required to be complied with.
Legal Procedure for Challenging Letters of Administration
Where an application for the grant of letters of administration has been lodged by the proposed administrators to the Probate Registry, a legal notice of the application will be published in the gazette or national newspaper to give interested parties and the general public the right to object to and challenge the letters of administration sought to be granted. A stipulated period of 21 days is usually given to challenge the letter of administration by filing a "Caveat" at the registry. At the expiration of the 21 days given, where no caveat is lodged at the Probate Registry, the letter of administration will be issued and duly signed by the Probate Registrar.
A caveat is a notice in writing or a Form that is lodged at the Probate Registry issued to challenge grant of letters of administration, it simply means that the Probate Registry should not issue the letters of administration to the proposed administrators who applied for the grant, without first giving notice to the person who entered the caveat. In Lagos State, the procedure for filing a caveat is provided for in the High Court of Lagos State (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019.
According to Order 63 Rules 18(4) of the High Court of Lagos State (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2019, "a Caveator may enter a caveat by completing Probate Form 5 in the appropriate book at the Registry and obtaining an acknowledgement of entry or sending a notice in Probate Form 3 to the Registry where the Caveat is to be entered by registered post or email. Where the caveat is entered by a Legal Practitioner on behalf of the Caveator, the name of the Caveator shall be stated in Probate Form 5".
Once a Caveat has been entered, a Warning or Notice to Appear in Form 7 is served against the Caveator by the proposed administrators applying for the grant of letter of administration. The appearance to the warning by the caveator as stated in Rules 18(9) will disclose the followings;
- It will state the interest of the parties warning and the date of the Will if he claims under a Will;
- It will require the Caveator to give in Probate Form 8 particulars of any contrary interest which he may have in the estate of the deceased.
On the other hand, the proposed administrators who intend to make an application for the letters of administration can counter the Caveat filed by the Caveator by filing a Writ of Summons for declaration or pronouncement.
In Lagos State, a caveat filed by a Caveator remains in force for three (3) months from the date it was entered and the letters of administration are not to be issued or granted while caveat is still in force unless it is withdrawn by the Caveator. The Caveat can also be renewed or a further caveat may be entered after the expiration of the effective period as provided in Order 63 Rules 18(5).
A Caveator having a contrary interest in the estate of the decease is to enter appearance within 8 days of service of the warning notice on him by filing Probate Form 8 and making an entry in the appropriate book. The Notice of Appearance with the seal of the Registry is immediately served on the proposed applicant as stated in Order 63 Rules 18(10). A Caveator may, however, decide not to enter appearance to the warning and withdraw his caveat by giving a Notice of Withdrawal to the Probate Registrar. However, where the Caveator fails to enter appearance to the warning within the stipulated period of three (3) months, the citor (proposed administrator) may file an affidavit to the Court showing that a Caveator has been cited and warned accordingly, but no response has been had. Once that has been effected, the Caveat ceases to be effective and the letters of administration will be granted as stated in Order 63 Rules18 (13).
Once an appearance has been entered by the Caveator, the action will be commenced and until the matter is fully determined, the letter of administration would not be granted to the applicant.
As a duty requirement, the Probate Registrar is required to maintain an index of caveats entered in the Registry, and on receiving an application for the grant of a letter of administration, the index will be searched and the applicant will be notified accordingly if any caveat has been entered in respect of the sealing of the grant for which the application is made.
In conclusion, the Probate Registrar is required to bring the existence of a caveat filed to the notice of the proposed applicants for a grant of letters of administration, and he is not required to seal or issue any letters of administration if there is knowledge of an effective caveat to the application for letters of administration. Where any letter of administration is granted with the knowledge of an existing caveat, such a grant will be invalid.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.