The Appeals Court in Richard Abrahamson v. Estate of John LeBold just issued a new decision concerning the short statute of limitations - one year - contained in G.L. s.190B, s.3-803(a) of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code ("MUPC"). Abrahamson had filed suit against the living John LeBold in Ohio. The suit was dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction over LeBold, and Abrahamson appealed. When LeBold died during the appeal, Abrahamson asked the Ohio Court to substitute Mr. LeBold's estate as a defendant. This is typical practice in a lawsuit where a party has died and the claim survives the person's death. An "Estate" is a legal entity, crafted by statute, which steps into the shoes of the recently-deceased to wrap up the deceased person's financial affairs. The Ohio court allowed the substitution.
Over a year after LeBold's death the Ohio appellate Court upheld the dismissal. The case was effectively dead in Ohio. Abrahamson filed a new case here in Massachusetts about six months after that.
Because the dismissal in Ohio was based on a particular technicality - personal jurisdiction - Abrahamson refiled here in Massachusetts under a law which allows refiling of lawsuits which are dismissed for such purely technical issues. That law, G.L. c.260, s.32, allows the refiling as long as the refiling happens within one year of the dismissal.
However, the MUPC has its own statute of limitations, which prohibits claims against an estate after one year from the passing of the deceased person.
In this case, it had been less than a year after the dismissal, but over a year since LeBold's death. The Court needed to resolve which statute of limitations would apply -- the limit in c.260 or c.190B.
The Court concluded G.L. c.260 has language in c.260 which determines the result. "If a special provision is otherwise made relative to the limitation of any action, any provision of this chapter inconsistent therewith shall not apply." The Court considered that the purpose of the s.3-803(a) was to protect estates by shortening the time for a claim; the purpose c.260 is to allow more litigation, and is inconsistent with the purpose of the new Probate Code. The Court also considered that when Massachusetts replaced the old probate code, it specifically removed, and did not replace, a clause in the old law which functioned similarly to c.260. Accordingly, the Court concluded that the Legislature did not intend to allow c.260 to be applied to the one year limit in s.3-803(a).
As a result, Abrahamson filed his lawsuit in Massachusetts too late to proceed with his claim against the Estate. So if you have claims against a deceased person, which are dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction or other technical matters of form, you are forced to choose between abandoning an appeal of the dismissal or filing a new case if it has been less than a year since the person's death. If it is more than one year from their death, c.260 will not save you.