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Sunday, May 05, 2013
Tying up loose ends after condo owner dies
QUESTION: My daughter owned her condo for over 15 years before she suddenly passed away. I managed to have her estate submitted to probate, and I'm the court-appointed executor. Immediately I began receiving invoices and letters from people who live in her complex claiming she owed them money. She didn't owe any association fees that I know of but I don't know how to confirm this. What is the legal process for claims filed against an estate, and how do I find out her homeowner association account status?
ANSWER: As executor, you are obligated to give notice of the probate and the time period for filing a creditor's claim to all reasonably ascertainable creditors. To provide notice to creditors, use California Judicial Council form DE-157, "Notice of Administration of the Estate of Decedent." Form DE-157 states in part: "Failure to file a claim with the court and serve a copy of the claim on the personal representative will in most instances invalidate your claim."
Sending you a letter or invoice showing that money is owed is not sufficient for the court. Creditors must file a California Judicial Council DE-172 form with the court and substantiate the money they say your daughter owed them. Form DE-172, the "Creditor's Claim" form, along with other probate-related forms, can be found athttp://www.courts.ca.gov. Currently, there is no fee for filing the claim form. Creditors are cautioned that service of the DE-172 claim form on the personal representative alone is not sufficient to secure a claim.
Once you, as the personal representative, have been served with a creditor's claim, you can accept or reject it in whole or in part. Using form DE-174, "Allowance or Rejection of Creditor's Claim (Probate-Decedents' Estates)," you provide notice of your action to the creditor.
If the claim is rejected, in whole or in part, the creditor must follow strict guidelines for filing a lawsuit to enforce the claim. Generally a lawsuit must be filed within 90 days after rejection of a creditor's claim. But California has an absolute one-year statute of limitations for lawsuits against estates.
Because of the risk of association-generated liens that could be placed on the unit and the very real prospect of judicial and non-judicial foreclosure, you as executor should immediately demand copies of the payment history and current status of your daughter's association account as it pertains to her unit address. In obtaining these documents, time is of the essence.
Use certified mail, return receipt requested, to make your written request to the board of directors pursuant to Civil Code Section 1365.2(f), wherein an association titleholder may bring an action to enforce the owner's right to inspect and copy the association records. Give the board 10 business days to comply. If the information is unreasonably withheld, immediately bring an action against the association in Small Claims Court or obtain a court order for the association to produce the documents.
This column was co-written by Joel J. Loquvam, an attorney who specializes in estate planning, probate and trust administration. Vanitzian is an arbitrator and mediator. Send questions to P.O. Box 10490, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 firstname.lastname@example.org.