Creditor claims in probate: substance trumps form

In re Estate of Koshuba, --- So.2d ----, 2007 WL 2934936 (Fla. 2d DCA Oct 10, 2007)

Florida law doesn't cut creditors any slack when it comes to blowing limitations periods [click here, here for recent examples], but creditors do get some leeway when it comes to "how" they make it known to the world that the estate owes them money.  As long as the creditor files something in the probate proceeding with sufficient detail to put interested parties on notice of "the character and extent of his claim," that should be sufficient.

Petition for Administration as "Claim" Form:

In the linked-to case the creditor filed a petition for administration of the decedent's estate in an attempt to enforce a real estate sales contract.  Here's how the court described his petition:

On September 12, 2003, Mr. Koshuba signed a contract agreeing to sell real property to Mr. Zilewicz. Mr. Koshuba died on December 1, 2003, before the parties closed on the contract. In order to enforce his right to purchase the property under the agreement, Mr. Zilewicz filed a Petition for Administration of the estate of Mr. Koshuba on June 17, 2005. The petition alleged, in part:

[Mr. Zilewicz] has an interest in these proceedings because of an obligation between [Mr. Zilewicz] and decedent's estate. Said obligation consists of a purchase and sales agreement made by and between petitioner and decedent as evidenced by the Notice of Interest in Real Estate recorded in the Public Records of Sarasota County, Florida, under instrument number 2004099787. [Mr. Zilewicz] is willing to act as petitioner because the heirs have made no application to administer the estate.

The trial court appointed Robin Vasquez as personal representative of the estate. On September 16, 2005, Mr. Zilewicz filed an Amended Petition for Appointment of Guardian ad Litem to represent the interests of unidentified heirs. In this document, Mr. Zilewicz alleged: “Petitioner and the decedent entered into a sales and purchase agreement for the purchase of real property located in Sarasota County, Florida. A copy of said agreement is attached hereto as Exhibit A.” This document also lists the nature of assets in the estate as “Unimproved Real Property” and lists the approximate value at time of death as $7000.

Trial Court Says "No," 2d DCA Says "Yes":

The probate court effectively struck the creditor's claim because "no cause of action was timely filed by the purchaser in accordance with F.S. 733.702(1), F.S. 733.702(6) and F.S. 733.710.”  The 2d DCA reversed on two grounds: "Form" and "Timeliness."

Form:

Here's how the 2d DCA addressed the "form" issue, basing it ruling on the pivotal Florida Supreme Court opinion in May v. Illinois National Insurance Co., 771 So.2d 1143 (Fla.2000).

We agree with the Personal Representative's assertion on appeal that Mr. Zilewicz's written statements, made within his Petition for Administration and the Amended Petition for a Guardian ad Litem, were substantially sufficient to place interested persons on notice of his claim. The documents filed in the probate proceeding by Mr. Zilewicz are defective as to form, but they sufficiently state the character and extent of his claim.

Timeliness:

Here's how the 2d DCA addressed the "timeliness" issue, focusing on a key 2002 legislative change:

We further conclude that a claim by Mr. Zilewicz was timely filed in accordance with sections 733.702 and 733.710, Florida Statutes (2003). In May, 771 So.2d at 1150, the court held that section 733.702, Florida Statutes (1991), is a statute of limitations that operates as a bar to claims not “ ‘filed within the later of 3 months after the time of the first publication of the notice of administration or, as to any creditor required to be served with a copy of the notice of administration, 30 days after the date of service of such copy of the notice on the creditor.’ “ Section 733.702(1) has since been amended to substitute “on or before” for “within,” thus allowing claims to be filed before the notice of administration. Ch.2002-82, § 6, Laws of Fla. (eff. April 23, 2002). The amendment is pertinent to the instant case and renders the claim timely under section 733.702. Also, Mr. Zilewicz's claim would not be time barred by the two-year statute of nonclaim in section 733.710, which bars claims not filed within two years after a person's death.

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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jeffrey S. Goethe - October 29, 2007 7:03 PM

At first I wondered why this case treated a petition for administration as a "claim" when caveats are not treated as a timely filed claim. The distinction would be the court's conclusion that a petition puts interested persons on notice of the nature of the claim, while a caveat simply gives notice of a potential claim, but not the nature of the claim.

Juan C. Antúnez - October 30, 2007 10:03 AM

Agreed.

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