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Parties with an interest in a Florida estate that are unfamiliar with the inner workings of Florida’s probate code proceed very much at their own risk.  In this case, New Jersey counsel for out-of-state creditors sought to enforce a settlement agreement the decedent had executed prior to his death.  The key sequence of events is as follows:

  • Creditor filed a statement of claim against the estate tracking the format of the form approved by the Florida Bar.
  • Personal representative of the estate filed an objection to the claim, which stated that the personal representative was objecting to only part of the claim.
  • As stated by the 2d DCA, the “objection was served on McLean Boulevard and it contained language informing McLean Boulevard that it was limited to a period of thirty days from the service of the objection within which to bring an action on the claim as provided in section 733.705, Florida Statutes (2000). McLean Boulevard never filed an independent or declaratory action on the claim.” .  .  .  OOPS!!

Case Study

In re Estate of Cadgene, 2006 WL 2739334 (Fla. 2d DCA Sept 27, 2006)

Because the creditor failed to file an independent action on his claim within the permitted 30-day statutory time period, as a matter of Florida law he forfeited 100% of his claim . . . even if the PR’s objection was by its own terms only a partial objection.  The probate court granted the PR’s motion to strike the entire claim, and the creditor appealed arguing that the PR objected to only part of his claim, and thus he should not be deemed to have forfeited the un-objected-to portion of his claim.  The 2d DCA rejected the creditor’s arguments, stating as follows:

The only requirements for filing an objection to a statement of claim pursuant to the 2000 version of section 733.705(2) were (1) that the personal representative or other interested person must have informed the claimant that it had thirty days from the date of service of the objection within which to file an independent action on the claim and (2) that the objection must have been served upon the claimant. Here, the personal representative met both of the requirements of section 733.705(2). With the exception of a personal representative’s statement of claim,[FN2] Florida does not utilize the concept of a “partial objection” to a statement of claim. This concept is recognized under the Uniform Probate Code that has been adopted in eighteen states but not in Florida.[FN3]

FN2. See § 733.705(3), Fla. Stat. (2000) (now § 733.705(4), Fla. Stat. (2006)).

FN3. The jurisdictions which have adopted the Uniform Probate Code are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and Wisconsin. In re Estate of Kotowski, 704 N.W.2d 522, 526 n. 1 (Minn.2005). 

Lesson Learned

Florida’s probate code is purposely designed to stream-line the administration process whenever possible.  As such, the mechanism for dealing with contested creditor claims is extremely unforgiving to those who fail to comply with a deadline or otherwise fail to understand the unique procedural aspects of Florida probate proceedings.