Morgenthau v. Estate of Andzel, — So.3d —-, 2009 WL 5151741 (Fla. 1st DCA Dec 31, 2009)

I recently wrote here about Florida’s ultra-short deadlines for filing creditor claims against probate estates and how they can be unforgiving traps for the unwary. These deadlines are scary because they can fly by without a creditor ever being the wiser.

But, some of you may ask, what about an estate’s duty under F.S. 733.2121 to give “reasonably ascertainable” creditors actual notice of the filing deadline? If I’m a reasonably ascertainable creditor and the estate didn’t give me notice, do I get a free pass? NO says the 1st DCA in the linked-to case above.

In this case the holder of an unpaid promissory note filed a creditor claim against the debtor’s probate estate over a year after the estate first published its notice to creditors in a local newspaper. Clearly the creditor had blown past the generally applicable 3-month claims-filing deadline under F.S. 733.702. The creditor argued he shouldn’t be bound to this deadline because he was a reasonably ascertainable creditor and the estate hadn’t complied with its duty under F.S. 733.2121 to give him actual notice of the filing deadline.

Sorry, says the 1st DCA. Unless a creditor asks for an extension to file his claim (and “insufficient notice of the claims period” is one of the grounds for getting an extension), he’s out of luck. Here’s why:

Here, appellant filed a statement of claim past the three month filing window. As such, according to section 733.702(1), the claim was untimely as appellant did not receive actual notice of the claim and was, thus, a creditor who fell in the three month filing window following publication. See also Miller v. Estate of Baer, 837 So.2d 448, 449 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002) (holding creditors who do not receive actual notice have until the close of the three month publication window to file a claim regardless of whether creditor asserts it was entitled to actual notice).

Further, appellant did not file a motion for extension of time to file the claim or otherwise seek an extension. All Florida cases since [May v. Illinois Nat. Ins. Co., 771 So.2d 1143 (Fla.2000)] dealing with the forgiveness of a timeliness issue as to a creditor’s claim where the creditor asserts he or she was a reasonably ascertainable creditor subject to actual notice reach the issue through review of the creditor’s request for an extension, not through creditor’s filing of a statement of claim. Faerber v. D.G., 928 So.2d 517, 518 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006) (reversing a trial court’s grant of creditor/appellee’s motion for extension of time to file a claim where no evidence was considered prior to the grant); Simpson v. Estate of Simpson, 922 So.2d 1027 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006) (reviewing trial court’s denial of appellant’s motion for extension of time based on the allegation he was a readily ascertainable creditor who should have received actual notice of decedent’s death); Longmire v. Estate of Ruffin, 909 So.2d 443 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005) (same); Strulowitz, 839 So.2d 876 (same); Miller, 837 So.2d at 448-50 (same).

While the Statement of Claim listed facts upon which a probate court could grant an extension, the Statement of Claim did not request an extension. Further, at no point in either the initial brief or the reply brief does appellant argue his Statement of Claim should be converted or modified to be read as a motion requesting an extension of time. The proper procedural course for untimely claims is the filing of an extension request prior to the filing of a statement of claim. § 733.702(1)-(3), Fla. Stat. (2007). Under the plain language of the statute, once appellant’s claim fell outside the three month claim period, regardless of his arguments for delay, his claim could only be considered after the probate court’s grant of an extension. Because appellant chose to file only a Statement of Claim and never requested an extension of time to file that claim, the probate court was bound by the relevant statutes to deny the claim. § 733.702(1)-(3), Fla. Stat. (2007).