Why Do Probate Estates Need To Publish A “Notice To Creditors”?
Even in the age of social media, when government officials announce decisions on Twitter and Facebook, there are still some legal formalities that require the use of an old-fashioned printed newspaper. One such example is the “Notice to Creditors” that must be published for every Florida probate estate. Perhaps you have seen such notices in your local paper next to the classified ads. But what is the purpose of this notice? And does it have any real legal significance?
When a person dies, they often still owe money to certain creditors, such as medical or credit card bills. While these debts are not passed on to the deceased person’s heirs, they must be paid out of any assets available to the decedent’s probate estate. Creditor claims take priority over any heirs or beneficiaries named in the will.
In some cases, the personal representative may know all of the decedent’s outstanding creditor. But more commonly, there are at least some creditors that may be unknown to the personal representative. This is where the Notice to Creditors comes into play. The Notice is just that–it notifies any potential creditors that may be out there that the decedent has passed away and that a personal representative has been named to oversee their probate estate.
Under Florida law, the Notice to Creditors must be published at least once a week for two consecutive weeks in a “newspaper of general circulation” in the county where the estate is being administered. In addition to newspaper publication, the personal representative must also directly serve any known creditors of the deceased. And if the deceased was over the age of 55 at the time of death, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration must also receive notice, as there may be a Medicaid lien applicable to the estate.
Florida’s Limitations Periods for Creditor Claims
The first date that the Notice to Creditors is published starts a three-month clock running. Within this three-month period, any creditors who wish to pursue a claim against the estate must present it to the personal representative. Any claims presented after the three-notice period ends are barred. In other words, if a creditor waits 6 months to present a claim, the personal representative is under no legal obligation to pay it, even if the debt was otherwise valid.
Now, one question you might have is, “What happens if nobody opens a probate estate?” If the decedent only left minimal assets, for instance, nobody may have thought it necessary to initiate probate proceedings. Assuming the creditors do not want to simply write-off the debt, it is possible for the creditor to file a petition for probate–in effect forcing an estate to open.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that Florida also has a hard two-year limitations period for creditor claims. In other words, after a person has been dead for 2 years, all creditor claims are barred, even if no probate estate was ever opened, except in very limited circumstances.
If you have additional questions about Florida’s probate rules or are involved in an estate dispute and need advice from a qualified Pompano Beach estate and trust litigation attorney, contact Mark R. Manceri, P.A., today to schedule a consultation.