Celeste Stevens was delighted by the return she received from the antique furniture she placed on assignment with Samantha, a personal shopper working confidentially with wealthy clients in Fort Worth. Consequently, she called owner, Samantha Grossman and arranged to place a Chippendale breakfront and a Pembroke table for sale with her. Based upon the trust engendered by her prior experience with Samantha, Celeste didn’t bother to get a written contract. Three months later, Celeste learned that Samantha had died suddenly from a bout with the flu.
Samantha’s was a business that had never been incorporated. Instead, she had operated out of her home as a “DBA” (doing business as). This meant that the business assets would be included in Samantha’s estate. Celeste kept thinking she ought to contact somebody about retrieving her furniture, but the only information she had was the phone number of Samantha’s friend, Jane. Celeste procrastinated for six months and finally rang the friend. Jane told her that Samantha wasn’t married, had no children and her only one living relative was her mother. Jane also revealed that Samantha had been buried in her home town of Tyler where the mother lived.
Celeste checked the probate records in Smith County and learned that Samantha’s will had been probated and an independent executor named. Since Celeste had gotten no notice from the independent executor regarding her furniture, she didn’t know if there would be any record as to her ownership of the furniture. If Samantha had kept no record, the independent executor likely had assumed the breakfront and table belonged to Samantha. What, if anything, can Celeste do to recover her property?
Celeste is in luck in that Samantha’s will is being probated in an independent administration rather than a dependent one. In an independent administration almost all actions, except for filing of an inventory, appraisement and list of claims, are taken without intervention by the probate judge. The procedure for filing a claim against the independent administration is not bound by rules that apply to the filing of a claim with the dependent administration.
Under the case law in Texas, the requirements such as providing authentication and depositing a claim with the clerk are not applicable to an independent administration. In addition the Texas Estates Code §403.058 provides that procedural provisions that would be required of creditor’s claims in a supervised administration do not apply in an independent administration. Thus, Celeste does not have to have a writing authenticating her claim. The clerk doesn’t have to provide personal service to the independent executor or to any other person. The court doesn’t have to set a hearing on the claim and Celeste doesn’t have to appear at a hearing to support her claim.
In a dependent administration, a creditor’s claim may be barred solely because the creditor failed to file a suit not later than the 90th day after the date a dependent executor rejects the claim or takes no action on the claim. That limitation does not bind Celeste.
Celeste should be able to obtain the contact information for the attorney representing the independent executor in the application for probate filed with the court. She can then get in touch with the independent executor and make her claim through him or her. The claim does not have to be presented in any particular form. She can write a letter to the independent executor setting out her claim that the furniture is hers. If she has any documentation regarding the value of the furniture, she should present them, although that documentation is not required.
Should the executor reject her claim or fail to respond to her claim, Celeste will have until the statute of limitations of four years for a contract runs out to file suit. Obviously, the sooner she files suit the better.
Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth. She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain.