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Estate of Leavitt
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	1999 ME 102
Docket:	Han-98-660
Argued:	June 9, 1999
Decided:	June 30, 1999	

Panel:WATHEN, C.J., and CLIFFORD, RUDMAN, DANA, SAUFLEY, and ALEXANDER, JJ.





ESTATE OF MAX L. LEAVITT



WATHEN, C.J.

	[¶1] The personal representative of the Estate of Max L. Leavitt (the
Estate) appeals from a judgment entered in the Hancock County Probate
Court (Patterson, J.) ordering the Estate to deliver a deed of distribution for
certain real estate and fixtures.  The court held that the decedent breached
an enforceable contract to devise to Clayton Wadsworth the decedent's
property known as the Bucksport Flower Shop.  On appeal, the Estate
contends, inter alia, that Wadsworth's claim is time-barred by the Probate
Code.  We agree and vacate the judgment.
	[¶2] The underlying facts may be summarized as follows:  Max Leavitt
died intestate on October 3, 1997.  The Probate Court subsequently
appointed Dale Leavitt and Berley Leavitt, cousins of decedent, as personal
representatives of his estate.  On December 17, 1997, Clayton Wadsworth
filed a claim against the Estate contending that he owned equitable title to
the property of Leavitt known as the Bucksport Flower Shop because Leavitt
had promised Wadsworth the shop during his thirty-two years of
employment there and he had relied on that promise.  On January 5, 1998,
the personal representatives of the Estate filed a notice disallowing
Wadsworth's claim, stating that such notice was mailed to Wadsworth on
December 31, 1997.
	[¶3] On January 6, 1998, the Estate filed a complaint in the Hancock
County Probate Court against Wadsworth, alleging that Wadsworth had
converted Estate property by operating the Bucksport Flower Shop and
withdrawing funds from various accounts associated with the Flower Shop
following Leavitt's death.  On June 15, 1998, Wadsworth filed a motion to
enlarge the time within which to file his answer and counterclaim.  The
court granted the motion on June 23,{1} making the answer and the
counterclaim timely filed under the Rules of Probate Procedure.{2} 
Wadsworth's counterclaim against the Estate alleged that the Estate had
wrongfully converted the flower shop and its assets and that the personal
representatives of the Estate had failed to properly manage the shop.  The
court ruled that Wadsworth's claim was not barred by the specific
limitations in the Probate Code applying to creditors and ruled in favor of
Wadsworth.  The Estate appeals.  
	[¶4] The Estate contends that the Probate Code contains its own
time restrictions that are not subject to enlargement by the court.  See
Hutchins v. Hutchins, 141 Me. 183, 188, 41 A.2d 612, 614 (1945) (stating
that the Probate Court can "distribute personal property only in accordance
with the provisions of the legislative grant of authority, and this is so even
though the beneficiaries agree otherwise"); see also Estate of Staples, 672
A.2d 99, 101 (Me. 1996) ("A Probate Court cannot authorize an
administrator to pay a claim after the claim has been barred from payment
pursuant to the statute.").  The Probate Code limits the time within which a
claim can be presented.  See 18-A M.R.S.A. § 3-803 (1998).  Wadsworth's
claim, as a claim arising at decedent's death, was timely filed within nine
months of Leavitt's death.{3}  	
	[¶5] The Code, however, also limits the time within which a
claimant can dispute the disallowance of a claim by an estate:
Every claim which is disallowed in whole or in part by the
personal representative is barred so far as not allowed unless
the claimant files a petition for allowance in the court or
commences a proceeding against the personal representative
not later than 60 days after the mailing of the notice of
disallowance or partial allowance if the notice warns the
claimant of the impending bar.
18-A M.R.S.A. § 3-806(a) (1998).  Because Wadsworth did not commence a
proceeding against the personal representatives within sixty days of the
mailing of disallowance, the Estate contends that his claim is barred.{4}
	[¶6] Wadsworth seeks to avoid this result by urging that we interpret
his claim as an issue of title not a contractual claim against the decedent or
his estate.  The Probate Code defines "claims" broadly and expressly
includes liabilities arising under contract.  The term includes
liabilities of the decedent or protected person whether
arising in contract, in tort or otherwise, and liabilities of the
estate which arise at or after the death of the decedent or
after the appointment of a conservator, including funeral
expenses and expenses of administration.  The term does not
include estate or inheritance taxes, or demands or disputes
regarding title of a decedent or protected person to specific
assets alleged to be included in the estate.  
18-A M.R.S.A. § 1-201(4) (1998).   Wadsworth's claim cannot reasonably be
construed as a title dispute regarding a piece of property; it is a claim that
Leavitt breached his promise to devise the flower shop to Wadsworth in
return for his years of employment.  Such a claim falls squarely within
section 1-201(4) and is subject to the time restrictions of the Code.  As we
stated in Estate of Staples, creative labeling cannot exempt a "claim" from
the requirements of the Probate Code.  See Estate of Staples, 672 A.2d at
101.  Cf. Estate of Shapiro, 1999 ME 25, 723 A.2d 886 (a claim seeking to
recover property of a third party held by the Estate is not a claim within the
meaning of section 1-201(4)).
	[¶7] Because Wadsworth's action was not commenced within 60 days
of the notice of disallowance, it is time-barred.  Accordingly, we need not
address the Estate's other arguments on appeal or Wadsworth's arguments
on cross-appeal.
	The entry is:
Judgment vacated.  Remanded to
Hancock County Probate Court for
further proceedings consistent with this
opinion.

Attorney for appellant: William N. Palmer, Esq., (orally) Gray & Palmer 6 State Street, Suite 407 Bangor, ME 04401 Attorney for cross-appellant: Christopher J. Whalley, Esq., (orally) P O Box 516 Ellsworth, ME 04605
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . Wadsworth's counsel stated in the motion for enlargement that he had signed the responsive pleadings on February 21, 1998, but through inadvertence or mistake had failed to file them until June 15, 1998. {2} . M.R. Prob. P. 12(a) dictates the timing for defenses and objections to probate proceedings. M.R. Prob. R. 12(b) explains that M.R. Civ. P. 12 applies to civil proceedings in Probate Court. As civil proceedings in Probate Court, the complaint filed by the Estate and Wadsworth's answer and counterclaim are governed by the Rules of Civil Procedure. M.R. Civ. P. 12(a) dictates that a defendant shall serve an answer within twenty days after the service of the complaint. M.R. Civ. P. 6(b) allows the court to extend a specified time restriction after the expiration of the period where the failure to act was the result of excusable neglect. {3} . Section 3-803 states in pertinent part: (a) All claims against a decedent's estate which arose before the death of the decedent, including claims of the State and any subdivision of the State, whether due or to become due, absolute or contingent, liquidated or unliquidated, founded on contract, tort, or other legal basis, if not barred earlier by another statute of limitations or nonclaim statute, are barred against the estate, the personal representative, and the heirs and devisees of the decedent, unless presented within the earlier of the following: (1) The time provided by section 3-801, subsection (b) for creditors who are given actual notice, and the time provided in section 3- 801, subsection (a) for all creditors barred by publication; or (2) Nine months of the decedent's death. . . . . (b) All claims against a decedent's estate which arise at or after the death of the decedent, including claims of the State and any subdivision of the State, whether due or to become due, absolute or contingent, liquidated or unliquidated, founded on contract, tort, or other legal basis, are barred against the estate, the personal representative, and the heirs and devisees of the decedent, unless presented as follows: (1) A claim based on a contract with the personal representative, within four months after performance by the personal representative is due; or (2) Any other claim, within the later of 4 months after it arises, or the time specified in subsection (a), paragraph (2). 18-A M.R.S.A. § 3-803. {4} . The statute requires that the Estate's notice of disallowance had to inform Wadsworth of his right to file a petition for allowance or commence a proceeding against the personal representative within 60 days of the mailing of disallowance. See 18-A M.R.S.A. § 3- 806. The docket sheet reflects that the personal representatives mailed a copy of the notice of disallowance form to Wadsworth. The form states the rights of the claimant upon disallowance and uses the statutory language to warn the claimant of the impending bar if he or she does not take action, adequately informing Wadsworth of the impending bar.