Johnson v. Townsend

Johnson v. Townsend, --- So.3d --- (Fla. 4th DCA 2018)

This is an interesting decision about the intersection of community property law and Florida probate claims. The decision centers around whether a surviving spouse who is claiming an interest in purported community property must file a timely claim against the estate. The Court held that such a claim is a claim under the Florida Probate Code and that no exceptions exist to usurp the time deadlines for filing a claim in these types of proceedings.

Prior to the decedent's death, he acquired property with his wife while domiciled in Texas, a community property state. The property was titled solely in the decedent's name. Following the decedent's death, and after more than 3 months had passed since the notice to creditors was published and over two years had passed since the decedent's date of death, the wife filed a "Petition to Determine and Perfect Surviving Spouse's Community Property Interest in Estate Assets." The decedent's children moved to strike the Petition as untimely.

The wife made several interesting arguments about why the Petition should not be treated as a claim subject to the statutory guidelines. First, she argued under F.S. 732.223, a spouse's community property interest is not treated as a creditor claim and there is no stated deadline for filing a petition to perfect a community property interest. Second, she argued that the definition of a claim in F.S. 731.201(4) does not encompass a community property interest. Finally, she argued that even if her Petition were a claim, her community property interest fell into one of two exceptions to the statutory deadlines. She argued that she fell within the common law "trust exception" because even though the husband held the property in his own name, a resulting trust arose in her favor by implication of the community property laws, and as a result she did not have to file a claim to perfect title. She also argued that she fell within the "lien exception," because the vesting of her community property interest gave rise to an equitable lien which is excepted from the claim statutes.

The Court disagreed. It held that the wife's interest in the husband's estate was a liability of the decedent and thus subject to the claim statutes, and that claim was untimely, as it was after the three month period and the two year claim period.  It felt that neither the trust exception nor the lien exception were applicable. The trust exception has been limited to "express trust[s] or some other clearly defined means," which the Court felt did not exist here. The Court held that this was not a lien,  because it was not a duly recorded mortgage or security interest, nor was she in possession of the property. Finally, it disagreed that the community property statutes were not subject to the 2 year non-claim period in F.S. 733.310.


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