Souder v. Malone, — So.3d —-, 2014 WL 3756356 (Fla. 5th DCA August 01, 2014)

Assuming I file my creditor claim before the 2-year post-death deadline set by F.S. 733.710 (Florida’s “statute of repose” for probate creditor claims), what’s my deadline for litigating whether or not I’m a reasonably ascertainable creditor?

First the 1st DCA in 2009, and then the 2d DCA in 2012, each held in separate cases that a creditor forfeits his chance to argue his status as being “reasonably ascertainable” and thus his entitlement to personal service of a “notice to creditors” (vs. publication notice alone), if he doesn’t also file a motion for an extension of time under F.S. 733.702(3) within the two-year repose period of F.S. 733.710. See Morgenthau v. Estate of Andzel, 26 So.3d 628 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009) (which I wrote about here), and Lubee v. Adams, 77 So.3d 882 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) (which I wrote about here).

In 2013 the 4th DCA came to a different conclusion in Golden v. Jones (which I wrote about here), holding that there  is NO deadline for litigating a creditor’s status as being “reasonably ascertainable,” as long as the creditor gets his claim filed before the 2-year post-death deadline set by F.S. 733.710.

The 5th DCA has now jumped into the fray, explicitly rejecting the 4th DCA’s holding in Golden, siding instead with the 1st and 2d DCA’s reasoning in Morgenthau and Lubee.

We disagree with Golden’s apparent holding that the remedy for a personal representative’s failure to serve a known or reasonably ascertainable creditor with a copy of the notice to creditors is a determination that the limitations period set forth in subsection (1) does not begin to run. Subsection (3) expressly provides that a probate court may grant a petition to extend the time in which to file a claim where there was “insufficient notice of the claims period.” Thus, construing subsections (1) and (3) together, we believe that the Legislature has determined that where a personal representative has failed to serve a copy of the notice to creditors on a known or reasonably ascertainable creditor, that creditor’s remedy is to petition the probate court for an extension of time.

In summary, as stated in Lubee, creditors who are served a copy of the notice to creditors are required to file their claims within thirty days following service. Creditors who are not served a copy of the notice to creditors are required to file their claims within the three-month window following publication or, alternatively, may seek an extension from the probate court pursuant to section 733.702(3) within the two-year window set forth in section 733.710. Lubee, 77 So.3d at 884.

So what now?

The growing split among our DCA’s on this important probate creditor issue should be resolved by the Florida Supreme Court in the near future, which has already agreed to accept jurisdiction of the Golden v. Jones case. Stay tuned for more . . .