Court allows complaint to be filed against estate under one year statute of limitation although time to file under creditor claim statute had expired; Allen v. Stoddard.

Allen v. Stoddard (January 9, 2013, Court of Appeal of the State of California, Fourth Appellate District, Case No. G046460)

Note: you should consider the holding in Allen v. Stoddard to be limited to the facts in that case, you should read the holding in its entirety, and, of course, you should always file a complaint and initiate legal action before the expiration of any possible statute of limitation.  Nevertheless, you might find the holding and reasoning in Allen v. Stoddard helpful if you are in a situation where a possible statute of limitation may have expired.

Allen filed a creditor claim in the Estate of Humpert, claiming that Humpert, with whom Allen had be in a stable, long-term committed relationship, had promised Allen that he “would be taken care of” should “anything happen” to Humpert.  Humpert died intestate, and there was no evidence Allen and Humpert ever registered as domestic partners, or married during that brief period in 2008 when same-sex couples could marry.  Allen filed the creditor’s claim against Humpert’s estate based on the “would be taken care of” promise made by Humpert.  The next month on May 19, 2011 the estate sent a formal notice of rejection of Allen’s claim.

Allen filed his complaint exactly 91 days from May 19, 2011. Stoddard, as estate administrator, successfully demurred to the complaint based on it being untimely under section 9353, subdivision (a)(1). A judgment of dismissal ensued, and Allen timely filed this appeal. 

On appeal the Court was confronted with the issue of whether Probate Code section 9353 irreconcilably conflicts with Code of Civil Procedure section 366.3.  The Court concluded that they do conflict on the narrow point of how much time a claimant against an estate has to file suit based on a promise to make a distribution from the estate, such as a contract to make a will. Section 9353 gives claimants 90 days from rejection of the claim by the estate to file suit; section 366.3 gives them a year from decedent’s death to file suit. Under the longstanding rule of construction that newer and more specific statutes take precedence over older and more general statutes, the Court concluded it is section 366.3’s time limit that controls.