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What are the Rules for Creditors in Florida Probate Matters?

 After the death of a Florida resident, it is often necessary to open a probate estate. The probate process “proves” the deceased person’s will, or if there was not a valid will, ensures state intestacy law is followed with regard to distribution of assets.

But, probate is about more than simply distributing assets. If the deceased person owed money to anyone, those creditors also have the right to bring claims against the estate. Valid debts submitted within the required time periods must be paid before estate assets are distributed to beneficiaries.

Types of Creditors’ Claims

When a probate estate is opened in Florida courts, the personal representative is required to provide notice to creditors. This notice directs anyone to whom the deceased person owed money to submit a claim for payment against the estate.

Creditors can include anyone the deceased person owed money to, including credit card companies, banks or credit unions, individuals who made personal loans, contractors, health care providers, utility companies, etc. This can include creditors the family knew about but may also include unknown creditors.

Publication and Notice Requirement

The procedural steps and timeframes are important; personal representatives in Florida must follow and understand these requirements.

Florida statutes require personal representatives to publish a notice to creditors in a local newspaper. In addition, personal representatives must also affirmatively notify creditors that are “reasonably ascertainable”, providing them with notice of the probate matter and the time limits for filing claims. When a decedent is over the age of 55, the personal representative must also provide notice to the Agency for Health Care Administration within three months from the time the notice was first published in the newspaper.

Time Frames for Submitting Claims

The personal representative is not obligated to pay any debts until at least five months have passed since the notice to creditors was published. However, all valid claims must be paid within one year from the first date the notice was published. This time frame may be extended by the courts in certain circumstances, as necessary.

Creditors have three months from the date the notice was first published, or 30 days after being notified directly, to submit a claim. If a creditor does not file their claim within this time period, the personal representative may challenge the claim on the basis that it is time-barred. However, this does not hold true if the personal representative knew about or should have been able to reasonably ascertain that the creditor could have a claim against the decedent’s estate.

In a 2015 case, Jones v. Golden, the Supreme Court of Florida held that “claims of known or reasonably ascertainable creditors of an estate who were not served with a copy of the notice to creditors are timely if filed within two years of the decedent’s death.”

After two years have passed since the decedent’s death, claims that have not been brought are barred, and the personal representative, beneficiaries, and estate are not liable for such debts. A notable exception is a proceeding to enforce any mortgage, security interest, or other lien on property of the decedent, Florida Statute §733.702(4)(a).

Objections to Creditors’ Claims

Personal representatives also have the right to object to claims filed, but they must object within four months from the date the notice was first published or within 30 days from the time a claim was filed or amended, whichever comes later. Objections must follow Florida Probate Rules.

If a claimant wants to dispute an objection, they have 30 days to bring an independent legal action.

Work with a Skilled Probate Attorney

If you are the personal representative for someone’s estate, it is critical that required notices and procedures be handled as required by law. The Judy-Ann Smith Law Firm helps clients with all aspects of probate estate administration.

To learn more, contact us in Jacksonville today at 904-562-1369.