State Court of Appeals Confirms "Mailbox Rule" for Probate Notice to Creditors

State_Court_of_Appeals_Confirms_Mailbox_Rule_for_Probate_Notice_to_CreditorsA recent Washington State Court of Appeals (Division I) case holds that the time during which the creditor of a probate estate can bring a claim begins to run from the mailing of the Notice to Creditors, even if the creditor alleges that it never received such notice. Washington Federal Savings v. Klein concerns a loan made by Washington Federal Savings to the decedent, Robert Klein, M.D., during his life to purchase a condominium. At the time of the decedent’s death in 2009, the balance on the loan significantly exceeded the value of the property. The decedent’s son, Michael Klein, was appointed as Personal Representative of Dr. Klein’s estate. The Personal Representative filed and published Notice to Creditors in January 2010. The Personal Representative’s attorney sent a copy of the Notice to Creditors to Washington Federal Savings on January 28, 2011. That same day, a member of the attorney’s staff filed an Affidavit of Mailing with the court declaring that she had placed the Notice to Creditors in the mail to Washington Federal Savings. Washington Federal Savings filed its creditor’s claim on May 10, 2011. It claimed that it never received the Notice to Creditors mailed in January 2011, and only learned of the matter in a petition filed by the Personal Representative on April 27, 2011.

RCW 11.40.051, Washington’s creditor’s claims statute, requires a creditor of a probate estate to file its claim within a certain time period, or such claim is forever barred. If the personal representative publishes notice under RCW 11.40.020 and gives the creditor “actual notice” under RCW 11.40.020(1)(c), the creditor must present the claim by the later of (i) thirty days after the personal representative’s service or mailing of notice to the creditor, and (ii) four months after the date of first publication of the notice. RCW 11.40.020(1)(c) provides that “actual notice” may occur by serving the creditor or by “mailing the notice to the creditor at the creditor’s last known address, by regular first-class mail, postage prepaid.”

In this case, the Court of Appeals held that Washington Federal Savings’s claim was barred, because it had failed to file its claim by February 28, 2011, thirty days after the Personal Representative’s attorney mailed the Notice to Creditors. It was immaterial that Washington Federal Savings believed it had never received the mailed Notice to Creditors, because the statute does not require proof of receipt, only proof of mailing. The Affidavit of Mailing filed by the Personal Representative’s attorney’s staff member was sufficient to prove that the Notice to Creditors was mailed.