By: David M. Garten, Esq.
Issue: Can You Amend A Statement Of Claim Outside The Claims Period?
FORM/CONTENT OF A CLAIM: A statement of claim must be sufficient to put the estate on notice as to the basis of the claim. See Bell v. Harris, 381 So. 2d 1167 (Fla. 1st DCA 1980) (a claimant is not required to put a dollar figure on an unliquidated claim); First Union National Bank v. Aftab, 689 So. 2d 1137 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997) (when a claim is based on the terms of a promissory note which is not attached to the claim, a reference in the claim to the note with identifying data is sufficient [loan number, parties to loan, and amount of claim furnished]); Vazquez v. Byrski (In re Estate of Koshuba), 993 So. 2d 983 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007) (a claim contained in a Petition for Administration and in an Amended Petition for a Guardian ad Litem sufficiently stated the character and extent of the claim and therefore was timely filed). The requirements for the form and content of a claim can be found in Fla. Prob. R. 5.490(a) which reads: “Form. A creditor’s statement of claim shall be verified and filed with the clerk and shall state: (1) the basis for the claim; (2) the amount claimed; (3) the name and address of the creditor; (4) the security for the claim, if any; and (5) whether the claim is due or involves an uncertainty and, if not due, then the due date and, if contingent or unliquidated, the nature of the uncertainty.”
AMENDING A CLAIM: Florida courts have adopted a liberal approach to the amendment of claims in probate to correct formal defects that do not affect the substantial rights of the parties. See Baillargeon v. Sewell, 33 So. 3d 130 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2010), citing Farr v. Clement, 202 So. 2d 613, 614 (Fla. 2d DCA 1967). If a claim is defective as to form, then the probate court may allow a creditor to amend the claim at any time. See §733.704, F.S. (“If a bona fide attempt to file a claim is made by a creditor but the claim is defective as to form, the court may permit the amendment of the claim at any time.”); Fla. Prob. R. 5.490(d) (“If a claim as filed is sufficient to notify interested persons of its substance but is otherwise defective as to form, the court may permit the claim to be amended at any time.”).
Importantly, Fla. R. Civ. P.1.190(c) (a/k/a “relation back doctrine”) does not apply to claims in probate and should not be read in pari materia with §733.704, F.S. and Fla. Prob. R. 5.490(a). Therefore, even if the amendment to the claim arose out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original claim, if the amendment seeks to change matters of substance, e.g., the nature or amount of the claim, the amended claim will not be allowed.
What is an impermissible amendment to a claim? The term “defective as to form” is a term of art. An amendment of a claim outside of the claims period is impermissible if it seeks to change matters of substance, e.g., the nature or amount of the claim. See Estate of Shearer v. Agency for Health Care Admin., 737 So. 2d 1229 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999); Grayson v. Maeder, 186 So. 2d 796 (Fla. 3d DCA 1966). Refer to the following examples:
- In Black v. Walker, 140 Fla. 48, 191 So. 25 (1939), the claimant timely filed a claim for services rendered to the decedent. The PR objected to the claim and required a more specific statement of the claim. The trial judge allowed the claimant to amend the claim in certain particulars, no change being made in the amount. The amended claim was subsequently rejected by the court. The appellate court, in reversing the trial court, reasoned: “The amended claim was filed under the direction of the county judge and was for the same amount and purpose as the original claim. Other particulars in which it was amended are not material. It was for services rendered which are admitted to have been performed. It would be a gross injustice to permit it to be defeated under such circumstances.”
- In In re Grist’s Estate, 83 So. 2d 860 (Fla. 1955), the original claim was for a monetary sum of $20,000 alleged to be the value of the personal property and the relief sought was the payment of that amount as the value of the described property. By the amendment, however, claimant sought recovery of the specific chattels listed in the claim as distinguished from the aforementioned money value thereof. The PR objected to the amended claim on the basis that the amendment had the effect of changing both the nature and amount of the claim as well as the relief sought. The appellate court, in allowing the amendment, reasoned that: (a) no additional facts had to be proven to support the amended claim (the same evidence supports both the initial claim and the amended claim), and (b) under both the amended and the original claim, the parties in interest and essential elements in controversy remain the same.
- In Mellini v. Paulucci, 310 So. 3d 123 (Fla. 5th DCA 2020), Gina timely filed a statement of claim for $7,000,000 plus interest due on a note. Gina subsequently executed a satisfaction and release of claim stating that she had received “full payment” of her claim. Approximately eighteen months later, Gina’s accountant discovered a $1,726,560 discrepancy in the amount of the claim that Gina previously filed against the estate. As a result, Gina filed a petition with the probate court to amend her claim. The probate court entered an order granting Gina’s petition to amend her claim and directed the PR to pay the amended claim. The estate’s beneficiaries appealed the order and the appellate court reversed and remanded to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether there was a legitimate basis to set aside the release. At the evidentiary hearing, the probate court, apparently relying on Flynt v. Progressive Consumers Ins. Co., 980 So. 2d 1217 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008) which provides that Florida law permits a party to rescind a contract based on unilateral mistake unless the mistake results from an inexcusable lack of due care, found that the unilateral mistake committed by Gina’s attorneys in preparing the statement of claim “was not the result of [an] inexcusable lack of due care” and rescinded Gina’s satisfaction and release of claim. The court also determined that Gina’s filing of her amended claim was permissible and was not time-barred and it ordered the PR to pay Gina’s amended claim. The appellate court, in reversing the trial court, found that the unilateral mistake resulted from an inexcusable lack of due care on the part of Gina’s attorneys in preparing the statement of claim.
- In Estate of Shearer v. Agency for Health Care Admin., 737 So. 2d 1229 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999), decedent received Medicaid benefits prior to her death. Medicaid filed a claim and stated that the amount was subject to amendment. Medicaid subsequently filed its amended claim after the claims period had expired and the PR petitioned to strike the claim as untimely. The court denied the petition and the PR sought review. The appellate court, in reversing the trial court, reasoned as follows: “Amendment of a claim outside the claims period is permissible where the amendment cures a defect of form, but is impermissible if it changes the nature or amount of the claim. See Black v. Walker, 140 Fla. 48, 191 So. 25 (1939) (affirming allowance of amendment filed outside the filing period where amendment “was for the same amount and purpose as the original claim”); In re Grist’s Estate, 83 So. 2d 860 (Fla.1955) (amendment permissible because no additional facts had to be proved to support the claim and the parties in interest and essential elements of the claim remained the same). Here, because the amounts claimed in the amendment were for separate and distinct services requiring different proofs, untimely amendment should not have been permitted.”
 Committee Notes: “Subdivision (d) of this rule represents a rule implementation of the procedure found in section 733.704, Florida Statutes. It is not intended to change the effect of the statute from which it was derived but has been reformatted to conform with the structure of these rules. It is not intended to create a new procedure or modify an existing procedure.”