When a Florida resident dies and owes creditors (such a credit card balances or medical bills), Florida probate procedures establish a mechanism to resolve those creditor claims. The process starts by having the Personal Representative of the estate sign a document called a "Notice to Creditors." The Notice informs creditors of the pendency of the probate estate and of the deadline for filing a creditor claim in the probate.
A Notice to Creditors must contain the name of the decedent, the file number of the estate, the designation and address of the court in which the proceedings are pending, the name and address of the personal representative, the name and address of the personal representative's attorney, and the date of first publication. The Notice must state that creditors must file claims against the estate with the court during the time periods set forth in s. 733.702, or be forever barred.
A creditor claim is barred unless filed in the probate proceeding on or before the later of the date that is 3 months after the time of the first publication of the notice to creditors or, as to any creditor required to be served with a copy of the Notice to Creditors, 30 days after the date of service on the creditor. Importantly, any claim not filed against the estate within two years of the decedent's death is barred regardless of the above described timeframes.
Creditors are made aware of the Notice to Creditors by two methods. All creditors are notified by the publication of the Notice in a newspaper in the county where the probate is pending. The publication must be made for two consecutive weeks. In addition, known creditors, or those that are reasonably ascertainable, must be served with a copy of the Notice via certified mail.
If the decedent was 55 years of age or older, the Notice to Creditors must also be served on the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.
On or before the expiration of 4 months from the first publication of a Notice to Creditors or within 30 days from the timely filing of a claim, whichever occurs later, a personal representative or other interested person may file a written objection to a claim. If an objection is filed to a claim, the creditor must file an action to enforce the claim within thirty days or the claim will be denied.
The process of handling and resolving creditor claims plays an important role in the Florida probate process. This is one of the reasons a Personal Representative needs experienced probate counsel to advise and represent him or her.