HEIRS ASSERT CLAIM TO INTESTATE SHARE OF ESTATE 45 YEARS AFTER DECEDENT’S DEATH: FIFTH DISTRICT HOLDS THAT FLORIDA’S 2-YEAR NONCLAIM STATUTE DOES NOT APPLY TO CLAIMS ASSERTING BENEFICIAL INTEREST IN ESTATE
Helen Watkins had two daughters, Bernice Wallace and Helen Mansell. In 1971, Watkins died intestate (without a last will and testament) owning a parcel of real property in St. Augustine, Florida. Nearly 30 years later, Wallace and Mansell filed a petition for summary administration alleging they were the sole heirs at law. The property was conveyed to Wallace and Mansell and Mansell sold her interest to Wallace. Another 16 years lapsed and Mansell’s three biological children, who had been legally adopted by Watkins in 1963, filed a petition to re-open summary administration to claim their intestate share of Watkins’s estate. Wallace objected and asserted, inter alia, that Florida’s nonclaim statute, s. 733.710(1), Fla. Stat., which provides:
Limitations on claims against estates. (1) Notwithstanding any other provision of the code, 2 years after the death of a person, neither the decedent, the personal representative, if any, nor the beneficiaries shall be liable for any claim or cause of action against the decedent, whether or not letters of administration have been issued, except as provided in this section.
The trial court granted the grandchildren’s petition to reopen summary administration and Wallace appealed. The Fifth District held that “Florida’s nonclaim statute applies to claims brought against the estate by creditors. It does not apply to the beneficial interests of heirs. In re Estate of Roberston 520 S.2d 99, 102 (Fla. 4th DCA 1988) (rejecting argument that nonclaim statute bared claim of heirship because such claims were “not the type of ‘claim’ contemplated” by nonclaim statute).” Watkins v. Watkins, 43 Fla.L.Weekly 1915c. The court concluded that the plain language of the nonclaim statute makes clear that it only bars claims against the decedent, “not actions by heirs who were not included in the summary administration to enforce their rights.” Id.