Florida's unforgiving 2-year non-claim statute strikes again!

Bush v. Webb, 2006 WL 2872522 (Fla. 1st DCA October 11, 2006)

An overarching theme of Florida’s probate code (and recurring point of discussion on this blog) is the tension between basic due-process rights on the one hand and Florida’s strong public policy favoring the speedy administration of estates on the other. In order to move things along as quickly as possible (with the least amount of litigation expense possible), Florida law provides extremely short windows of opportunities for litigants to file claims.  Florida’s 2-year non-claim statute (733.710(1)) epitomizes this stated public policy because of its simplicity and utter disregard for due process or equitable considerations. When it comes to creditors, after 2 years it's game over . . . period, no exceptions.

The issue litigated in this case was whether language in a will explicitly directing the personal representative to pay the decedent’s funeral expenses trumps Florida’s 2-year non-claim statute. The 1st DCA described the will-language in contention as follows:

The decedent died on February 16, 2002. In her will, she bequeathed all her property to appellant and directed that her “just debts, funeral and administration expenses be paid as soon after [her] death as may be practical . . .”

The personal representative in this case was the decedent’s sister. Apparently the decedent’s children paid mom's funeral expenses then waited over two years to file a claim against mom’s estate seeking reimbursement. The PR said NO, the trial court said YES, and the 1st DCA sided with the PR, changing the answer to NO again. Here’s how the 1st DCA described the reasoning underlying its decision to reverse the probate court’s ruling:

It is undisputed in this case that appellees filed their claims against the decedent's estate more than two years after her death. Pursuant to section 733.710(1), the claims were barred. Contrary to appellees' argument, the decedent's directive that her estate pay her funeral expenses did not excuse their statutory obligation to file their claims against the estate within two years of the decedent's death. See Marshall Lodge No. 39, A.F. & A.M. v. Woodson, 190 So. 749, 751 (Fla.1939) (“We do not think that the provision of the will directing the executors to pay all of the just debts of the testator had any effect upon the operation of the statute of non-claim.”). Were that not the case, each of the decedent's creditors could have simply relied on the will and filed claims against the estate long after her death, thereby forever subjecting the estate to uncertainty. Such a situation would conflict with the purpose behind section 733.710(1).

Lesson learned:

If you even suspect an estate may owe you money, when in doubt file a claim . . . and do it sooner rather than later.  An early claim can always be withdrawn, a late claim is gone forever.

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Comments (6) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Paul Roman - October 17, 2006 3:08 PM

But how is a claim to be reimbursed for the decedent's funeral expenses a claim against the decedent? Is the court saying that an estate never has to pay its own bills?

Juan C. Antúnez - October 17, 2006 6:05 PM

Paul -

Yes, the estate usually pays the funeral expenses. However, often family members will front this expense because the funeral home wants to get paid when services are rendered, which is usually before the estate is opened and a PR has been appointed. I assume the decedent's children fronted the funeral expenses expecting to be reimbursed from the estate. The decedent's children have probably been informally asking the PR (i.e., their aunt) to pay the funeral expenses for months and months. Unfortunately for them, they waited 2 years before filing a formal claim. At which point they were out of luck - no matter how sympathetic the probate judge may have been to their pleas for fairness (remember the probate judge originally ordered the PR to pay their claim; that order was reversed in this appeal). Bottom line, when in doubt file the claim first, talk later.

Regards. Juan.

Russell Winer - October 17, 2006 7:41 PM

just guessing, but perhaps the kids consulted with a lawyer who then allowed the two years to run, then the lawyer took the appeal figuring he or she was on the hook anyway.

Maybe not.

Paul Roman - October 18, 2006 9:55 AM

The point I tried to make is that the statute does not bar claims against the decedent's ESTATE; it bars claims against the DECEDENT. Unless the decedent was buried alive (and at his request) the family's claim was not against the decedent, it was a request for reimbursement from the estate, which I would presume (based on the priority statute) has the primary responsibility for the decedent's funeral. Under 733.707, funeral expenses are described as obligations of the decedent's estate which the personal representative "shall pay" (at least up to $6,000).

Juan C. Antúnez - October 18, 2006 10:17 AM

Paul - Good point. Maybe if the claim had been framed as seeking reimbursement of an estate-administrative expense vs. a creditor claim the outcome would have been different. Juan.

Marvin Lehrer - February 22, 2007 1:11 PM

Nevada has a 90 day window maximum after notice is published in a paper of general circulation. IF you think 2 years is short!!!!

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