Probate courts are courts of limited jurisdiction in Georgia, so they can’t hear every possible claim remotely relating to an estate dispute. For example, in Georgia, they lack certain equitable powers that are held solely by the superior courts. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in a probate court, you best raise every issue you have regarding the subject estate or you may end up losing that claim. Likewise, it’s worth giving the underlying set of facts giving rise to your claim a thorough analysis to ensure that you’re raising all possible claims that could arise from that set of facts.
In Crowe v. Elder, the Georgia Supreme Court considered a decedent’s daughter’s breach of contract claim allegedly arising from the decedent’s widow’s failure to honor an alleged agreement regarding the distribution of the intestate decedent’s estate. The Supreme Court determined that the breach of contract claim was barred on the grounds of res judicata insofar as an identity of causes of action existed between the daughter’s previously (adversely) adjudicated fraud claim and her breach of contract claim. Tying this back into our original point about raising all possible claims in the probate court – the Georgia Supreme Court determined that res judicata applied even if the probate court lacked authority over the fraud or contract claims. Let’s see why. (more…)