South Carolina Court of Appeals says partition actions in probate court require an open estate; sends action back to circuit court.
The South Carolina Court of Appeals held last week that probate courts in South Carolina have subject matter jurisdiction over partition actions only where open estates are involved.*
The dispute involved a farm in Darlington County originally owned by S.W. Byrd. Mr. Byrd died in 1923, and his estate was probated in Darlington County and finally closed in 1948. The estates of several of Mr. Byrd’s heirs were not subsequently probated, and in April of 2012, E. Butler McDonald filed an action for partition and the determination of heirs in the Darlington County Probate Court.
At that time, more than ten years had passed since the deaths of Mr. Byrd’s original heirs. Since §62-3-108 of the South Carolina Code establishes a time limitation of ten years after death for the administration of an estate, these estates could not be probated at the time Mr. McDonald filed his action.
The Probate Court determined the heirs of S.K Byrd and their percentages of ownership. The Probate Court also found that no interested party had expressed a desire to purchase the property and that physical partition of the farm was impractical. The farm was ordered to be sold at a public auction, and Mr. McDonald’s reasonable attorneys’ fees were ordered to be paid.
On appeal by the other heirs, the Circuit Court affirmed. On appeal to the Court of Appeals, the appellants made several arguments, but the Court of Appeals focused on subject matter jurisdiction. Section 62-3-911 of the South Carolina Code establishes the jurisdiction for probate courts and specifically states that an heir may petition the probate court for partition prior to the closing of an estate. Since it was clearly established at trial that S.K. Byrd’s estate was closed in 1948, an action to partition his farm should have been brought in the circuit court, according to the Court of Appeals. The probate court’s determination of heirs and their percentages of ownership was affirmed, but the order was vacated as to the remaining issues.
*Byrd v. McDonald, S.C. Court of Appeals Case 5409 (June, 8, 2016)