When a person dies resident in Florida and a probate is opened, one of the first steps taken by the court-appointed Personal Representative is to publish a “Notice to Creditors” in a local newspaper. In addition to publication, the Notice to Creditors is served by certified mail on any reasonably known creditors. This puts creditors on notice that if they claim they’re owed money from the decedent, they must file a Statement of Claim (“Claim”) for the amount they claim that the decedent owed them. The Claim is filed in the probate file and is served on the Personal Representative.
If a creditor files a Claim, the Personal Representative (and any interested person) may evaluate its merit and determine if there’s cause to object to the Claim. There is a procedure for objecting to the Claim, as set forth in Florida Statutes Section 733.705 (2):
On or before the expiration of 4 months from the first publication of notice to creditors or within 30 days from the timely filing or amendment 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, the person filing it shall serve a copy of the objection as provided by the Florida Probate Rules. The failure to serve a copy of the objection constitutes an abandonment of the objection. For good cause, the court may extend the time for filing or serving an objection to any claim. Objection to a claim constitutes an objection to an amendment of that claim unless the objection is withdrawn.
A point of interest is that the objection can be filed by either the Personal Representative or it can be filed by any interested person. For example, a beneficiary can object to the Claim even if the Personal Representative does not. However, if the objection is filed by a person other than the Personal Representative, the Personal Representative may apply to the court for an order relieving him or her from the obligation of defending the estate in an independent action or for the appointment of the objector as administrator ad litem to defend the action.
So what happens if a creditor files a Claim to which the Personal Representative or other interested person objects? The claimant is limited to a period of 30 days from the date of service of an objection within which to bring an independent action upon the Claim. In essence, this means that the creditor must file a lawsuit seeking to establish the Claim. For good cause, the court may extend the time for filing an action or proceeding after objection is filed. Unless an extension is granted, no action or proceeding on the Claim may be brought against the Personal Representative after the 30 days, and the claim is barred without court order.
Here’s a typical example of how claim-objection works. Charley dies and his probate estate is opened in Florida. The Personal Representative of Charley’s estate publishes a “Notice to Creditors” in the local town newspaper. The Notice to Creditors is also mailed to the local hospital where Charley was treated before his death. The hospital files a Statement of Claim for the amount it claims is owed. Upon receipt of the Statement of Claim, the Personal Representative files and serves an objection to the Claim. The hospital then has 30 days within which to file a lawsuit seeking to recover the money it claims. If the hospital fails to timely file the lawsuit, then the Claim is forever barred and will not be paid by Charley’s Estate.