In a recent opinion by the Kansas courts, In The Matter of the Estate of MICHAEL A. CLARE, Deceased, No. 112,762, one decedent – Michael Clare – shot and killed his wife, Deborah Clare. Michael died intestate, and the primary asset in his estate was a $250,000 life insurance policy. His wife, Deborah, was the beneficiary of the policy, and the couple had no children together.
Deborah’s biological daughter filed a petition to open an estate for her mother, and after speaking with a judicial assistant, secured a hearing date, and also published notice of both the hearing and notice to creditors. However, she failed to submit a proposed order for hearing for the judge to sign, as is required by Johnson County probate court’s local rules.
While hearing on Deborah’s estate was pending, Michael’s aunt petitioned to be appointed the administrator of Michael’s estate. Michael’s aunt chose the same hearing date and time as when Deborah’s petition for appointment of administrator would be heard, and submitted an order for judge’s signature. The order was signed.
Both petitioners were awarded letters of administration of the respective estates. About a month after appointment, the court entered an order determining that Deborah’s daughter had failed to commence proceedings in a timely fashion because she did not procure an order of hearing. A few days later, Deborah’s daughter, both in her individual capacity and as the administrator of the estate, filed a wrongful death action against Michael’s estate; she also filed a timely notice of appeal to the Court of Appeals from the court’s order. The Court of Appeals panel affirmed the district court, that decision was then appealed.
The issue on appeal was “whether the district court erred when it held that she failed to satisfy a statutory time limitation for filing a claim against the estate because she failed to obtain a written, signed judicial order setting the matter for hearing.” The Supreme Court of Kansas ultimately held that the Johnson County District Court, Probate Division, erred in requiring such an order pursuant to local rule.
“No creditor shall have any claim against or lien upon the property of a decedent other than liens existing at the date of the decedent’s death, unless a petition is filed for the probate of the decedent’s will pursuant to K.S.A. 59-2220 and amendments thereto or for the administration of the decedent’s estate pursuant to K.S.A. 59-2219 and amendments thereto within six months after the death of the decedent and such creditor has exhibited the creditor’s demand in the manner and within the time prescribed by this section, except as otherwise provided by this section.” (Emphasis added.)
K.S.A. 59-2204 further states that a party commences a probate proceeding by filing a petition and then causing it to be set for hearing. While Johnson County’s local rules go a step further than the statute to state that this requirement is only fulfilled through submitting a proposed order for hearing for the judge to sign, ultimately, the Kansas Supreme Court disagreed. Previously, in Rickabaugh, the Court held that the probate code does not require a particular procedure for setting a hearing. “A local rule may not conflict with statutes or Supreme Court rules. Supreme Court Rule 105 (2015 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 200). The validity of a local rule is also subject to review for its reasonableness. See Frost v. Hardin, 218 Kan. 260, 264, 543 P.2d 941 (1975).”