Court of Appeals Clarifies Timing Requirements for Creditor's Claim Lawsuits

calendarThe Washington State Court of Appeals, Division 1, recently clarified the time limit for a creditor of an estate to file a lawsuit against a personal representative who has rejected the creditor’s claim. In re Estate of Stover, involved an alleged creditor who filed a claim against the estate on September 16, 2011. The personal representative did not respond to the claim, so on October 19, 2011 the creditor sent notice of her intent to file a lawsuit for the court to allow the claim. The personal representative rejected the claim on December 19, 2011. The creditor filed a lawsuit on January 23, 2012 for the court to allow her claim. The personal representative argued that RCW 11.40.100(1) required the creditor to file her lawsuit within thirty calendar days of the personal representative’s rejection of the claim, so that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The creditor argued that (1) the personal representative’s failure to reject the claim within the thirty and twenty day time periods in RCW 11.40.080(2) made the thirty day deadline in RCW 11.40.100(1) inapplicable, and (2) her lawsuit was timely because court rules added three extra days to the thirty day deadline for service by mail.

The court agreed with the personal representative, finding that the creditor’s claim was time-barred. In considering both of the creditor’s arguments, the court noted the legislative policy behind the creditor’s claim time limits: to facilitate prompt and efficient resolution of claims against estates. With respect to the creditor’s first argument, the court found that under the applicable statutes, failure by the personal representative to comply with the timelines did not excuse the creditor’s own failure to comply. RCW 11.40.100(1) requires a creditor to bring a lawsuit within thirty days of rejection. As for the creditor’s second argument, the court reasoned that RCW 11.40.100(1) referred to calendar days, not court days, and set forth a clear deadline for creditors to file lawsuits concerning their claims. The court rules would only apply if the statute contained no method for computing time.