What Must an Executor Do If a Creditor Files a Claim Against the Estate?
The personal representative or administrator (executor) has the obligation to pay all claims against the estate. RCW 11.48.010. Claims against the estate include all debts owed by decedent as of the date of decedent’s death.
Claims must be presented in the manner and by the deadline set forth in the executor's notice to creditors. The deadlines can vary from 30 days (actual notice provided), 4 months (notice published), or 2 years from the date of death (no actual notice, notice published when creditor’s claim was reasonably ascertainable). Read here for more complete details regarding the deadlines for a creditor to present.
“Reasonably Ascertainable” and Related Affidavit
If a creditor did not receive actual notice of when and how to present its claim, the deadline for such creditor to present its claim turns on whether that creditor’s claim was “reasonably ascertainable” by the executor.
A claim is reasonably ascertainable if the executor would discover it upon the exercise of reasonable diligence. RCW 11.40.040(1). The executor is deemed to have exercised reasonable diligence upon conducting a reasonable review of the decedent’s correspondence, including correspondence received after the decedent’s death, and financial records, including personal financial statements, loan documents, checkbooks, bank statements, and income tax returns, that are in the possession of or reasonably available to the executor. RCW 11.40.040(2).
Once the executor conducts this review reflecting reasonable diligence, the executor should file an affidavit stating such review has been conducted. By doing so, a creditor whose claim is not discovered in this process is presumed to not be reasonably ascertainable. This is important for determining the deadline for a creditor to bring a claim who has not received actual notice from the executor (4 months instead of 24 months. See RCW 11.40.051).
What Happens When a Creditor Files A Claim?
If the executor receives a timely filed and correctly presented claim, the executor must allow or reject such claim. Timely and correctly presenting the claim does not mean the claim is valid. If the executor has taken no action on a presented claim within the later of 4 months from the date of first publication of the notice to creditors, or 30 days from receipt of the claim, the creditor can give notice to the executor that the creditor intends to have the court decide the claim.
If the executor still takes no action on the claim within 20 days after receiving such notice from the creditor, the creditor can petition the court for a hearing to determine whether the claim should be allowed or rejected. If the court sides with the creditor, the court can award the creditor attorneys’ fees incurred to get the court involved.
How to Allow a Claim
If the executor allows a claim, the executor should promptly notify the creditor of such allowance. This can be done by regular first-class mail sent to the address of the creditor listed on its claim.
How to Reject a Claim
The executor may notify the creditor of the rejection via personal service or certified mail addressed to the creditor or its agent per the address listed on the claim. If the creditor wishes to pursue its claim, it must initiate a lawsuit against the executor no later than 30 days after receiving notification that its claim has been rejected.
Therefore, in the notification of rejection, the executor must tell the creditor that the creditor must file a lawsuit in the correct court against the executor within 30 days after notification of rejection, or the claim will be forever barred.
Alternatively, the executor can negotiate and compromise claims if doing so represents what the executor believes to be in the best interests of the estate.
Claims of Less than $1,000
If the executor received a claim of less than $1000, that claim will be deemed allowed unless rejected within the later of 6 months from the date of first publication or 2 months from the executor’s receipt of the claim.
Secured Claims (Liens)
Probates generally only address personal claims against the decedent as opposed to secured claims against decedent's assets that decedent pledged as collateral for a loan. Secured claims in Washington are not impaired by the probate proceeding regardless of whether the secured creditor presented a claim to the executor. RCW 11.40.135.
Secured claims are claims that attach to property that acts as collateral for the claim. An example of a secured claim would be a mortgage against a home. When a borrower signs a mortgage loan, the borrower has a personal obligation to repay the mortgage (claim against the person, not property). If the borrower defaults on his personal obligation to repay the mortgage loan, then the bank holding the mortgage can look to the home encumbered by the mortgage (the collateral) to satisfy its secured claim (the mortgage lien). The mortgage lien is a secured claim since it attaches to property and may be satisfied from such property.
No claim can be allowed if it is barred by an applicable statute of limitations.
Priority of claims and order of payment will be addressed separately.
Attorney, Chris Chicoine
Washington Estate Planning and Probate Attorney