Probate, Creditors and Technology – Are you Aware?

E-Filing in Probate Court – It’s Mandatory!

As a Creditor to an estate, you must be wary of your time limits to file a statement of claim against an estate. Section 733.702(1), Florida Statutes (2012) states that creditors must file any statements of claim against a decedent’s estate within three months of the first publication date of the notice to creditors or within the thirty days of being served with notice, whichever is later. If you do not file the claim within the time frame, the claim is time barred, unless the court grants an extension. § 733.702(3), Fla. Stat. (2012). The only available grounds for an extension are fraud, estoppel, or insufficient notice of the claims period. Id. Since April 1, 2013, electronic filing of court documents has been mandatory in civil, probate, small claims, and family divisions of Florida circuit courts. In re Amendments to Fla. Rules of Civil Procedure, 102 So.3d 541, 461 (Fla. 2012). While Rule 2.525(d) of the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration does provide exceptions to the electronic filing requirement, those exceptions are only available in specific circumstances. But, what happens if you mail a paper copy to the clerk, which is received within the applicable time period, but you do not electronically file a copy until after the time period has passed? According to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, you are out of luck and will be barred.

In United Bank v. Estate of Edward G. Frazee, Edward G. Frazee passed away on December 24, 2012. A petition for administration was filed and the decedent’s last will and testament was admitted to probate. A notice to creditors was published on February 14, 2013. On April 11, 2013, United Bank (the “Bank”) was served with a copy of the notice to creditors. Under § 733.702(1), the Bank’s deadline to file a statement of claim was May 15, 2013.  Through an out of state attorney licensed to practice in Florida, the Bank mailed the claims on May 10, 2013, but the Clerk did not receive the paper claims until May 14, 2015. On May 23, 2013, the Clerk notified the Bank that the claim needed to be filed electronically, and the Bank submitted the claims through the e-portal on the same day.

A year later, the Bank moved for the trial court to find that the claims had been timely filed. The Bank relied on Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.520(f) which states that no clerk of the court shall refuse to file any document because of noncompliance with this rule. The Bank utilized this rule to argue that the Clerk cannot reject improper paper filings. The Estate argued that the Bank did not fit under one of the exceptions to Rule 2.535(d) and that Rule 2.520(f) only applied to errors in formatting and technical rules, and should not be used as a loophole to allow parties to disregard the e-filing requirement. The trial court rejected the Bank’s application of Rule 2.520(f) and denied the motion.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed with the decision of the trial court. The Court went further and stated that the Bank’s interpretation of Rule 2.520(f) would basically add another exception to the mandatory filing requirements. Under the Bank’s argument, if a creditor filed a paper copy, it would be alright as long as they resubmitted the filing electronically. The Court stated that creating such a broad exception would be inconsistent with the mandatory nature of electronic filing.

This case serves as a warning for those seeking to assert a claim against an estate or a trust.  It is important to hire counsel who is not only licensed to practice in Florida, but is familiar with the state and local requirements.  Lack of strict compliance with rules and procedure can have devastating outcomes.  This article is meant to give a brief understanding of the mandatory e-filing requirement for probate court. Those who have more questions about filing a statement of claim or time limits should consult an attorney. Please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys of Chepenik Trushin LLP, who are ready, willing, and able to assist with your estate planning and probate litigation needs.