Who are Reasonably Ascertainable Creditors in a Florida Probate?
Claims from creditors can be a common source of litigation in probate matters. It doesn’t matter whether the estate is large or a smaller one, there is almost always a creditor who has filed a claim. Creditor claims are usually related to the debts of the person who just passed away. They can encompass everything from a credit card bill to a 7-figure promissory note to a former business partner.
No matter who the creditor is, they have deadlines they must adhere to in a probate, otherwise their claim may be barred. The problem is the deadlines can be a bit confusing. When people ask how long it takes to probate an estate, it can vary, usually because of creditor claims. However, the probate cannot be finalized until the personal representative determines what the debts and claims are that need to be paid by the estate. You cannot distribute assets to the named beneficiaries until the representative verifies that any claims and debts can be paid.
Reasonably Ascertainable Creditors
A personal representative must do a diligent search to uncover the names and addresses of reasonably ascertainable creditors. This includes claims that may not be matured, are unliquidated, or contingent. Personal representatives can be held personally liable for any shortfall in the estate’s assets that are not enough to pay a claim from a reasonably ascertainable creditor.
Reasonably ascertainable creditors can be defined as a creditor that the personal representative would learn of if they exercised reasonable diligence. There is no requirement that the personal representative speculate on potential claims.
Determining whether a creditor is reasonably ascertainable is an evidentiary matter. This means evidence has to be presented in order to support the theory that a creditor was reasonably ascertainable by the estate’s personal representative. Florida Probate Rule 5.241 includes language that says the steps the personal representative needs to take can vary based on how familiar he or she is with the decedent’s affairs. Therefore, there is no specific list of steps that must be taken in every estate since they are different on every estate.
The court can determine whether or not a personal representative was diligent when they look at the decedent’s correspondence, including what is received after the person dies, such as financial records which can include loan documents, income tax returns, bank statements, etc.
Creditor Claims Deadlines
Personal representatives are required to publish and service a notice to creditors, which puts them on notice that they have a certain amount of time in order to file a claim in a timely manner. If they miss the deadline, their claim is barred forever and there is no chance of collecting any money. Typically, creditors have 30 days after they were served with a notice or three months after the first notice to creditors was published. Since reasonably ascertainable creditors are to be served with a notice, it would trigger the 30-day limitation. However, all claims must be filed within two years of the decedent’s date of death.
Retaining a Florida Probate Attorney
If you have questions on reasonably ascertainable creditors, or need assistance with a probate, it’s important to speak with a knowledgeable Florida probate attorney. Contact the Law Office of Larry E. Bray, P.A. Call our West Palm Beach office at 561-571-8970. We’ve been helping clients with probate matters for over 30 years, so let us help with all your probate needs.