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Guidance for California Estate and Trust Litigants, Part II: Beware the Statute of Limitations

April 6, 2013
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The California Probate Code, federal law, and other statutes abound with statutory deadlines. Here are just a few of the actions that must be performed within statutory deadlines:

— Lodging a will

— Serving a notification by trustee

— Filing, accepting, or rejecting a creditor’s claim

— Filing a will or trust contest

— Filing an estate tax return

— Filing a trust tax return

— Filing an accounting

— Objecting to the appointment of a personal representative

The penalties for violating these statutes range from relatively inconsequential to devastating. For example, the Probate Code provides that a will must be “lodged” with the court within 30 days of the decedent’s death. This seems like an antiquated law and a very short deadline, and few laymen could be expected to know about it. But Probate Code 8200(b) provides that “a custodian of a will who fails to comply with the requirements of this section is liable for all damages sustained by any person injured by the failure.” We have never seen this become an issue and it would be unusual for a person to be injured by a will filed on the 31st day. (There are no trust or estate police sweeping the county for custodians of un-lodged wills.) This is a statutory deadline often disregarded without consequence.

Violating other statutes, however, can have enormous negative consequences. Failing to file a contest of a trust within 120 days of service of a notification by trustee will permanently bar the contest. Failing to file a timely creditor’s claim can bar the claim. And, as most people know, failing to file a tax return on time can lead to penalties and interest.

Because of these serious potential consequences, we advise clients to immediately determine the applicable statutory deadlines.

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