In this article...
The purpose of this article is to explain the Illinois probate claims process. We will discuss the deadline to file probate claims, how to file a probate claim, the process for litigating disputed claims, and priority of Illinois probate claims. For information about the probate process generally, check out our previous article: The Illinois Probate Process Explained.
In a probate case, the executor or administrator of the estate ( the “representative”) is responsible for collecting the assets and income of the deceased individual (the “decedent”) and using them to pay any liabilities of the estate prior to paying heirs and legatees (beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate plan). Anyone who has a cause of action against the decedent may file a claim against the estate. This can include claims for breach of contract, torts, collection of a debt, and various other types of liabilities.
The purpose of this article is to explain the Illinois probate claims process. We will discuss the deadline to file probate claims, how to file a probate claim, the process for litigating disputed claims, and the priority of Illinois probate claims. For general information about the probate process, check out our previous article: The Illinois Probate Process Explained.
In a probate case, the executor or administrator of the estate ( the "representative") is responsible for collecting the assets and income of the deceased individual (the "decedent") and using them to pay any liabilities of the estate before paying heirs and legatees (beneficiaries of the decedent's estate plan). Anyone who has a cause of action against the decedent may file a claim against the estate. This can include claims for breach of contract, torts, debt collection, and various other types of liabilities.
When is the Deadline to File a Probate Claim in Illinois?
The statute of limitations for probate claims in Illinois provides that creditors have two years from the decedent's death to file a claim against the estate. However, the representative can shorten this period by providing notice to known and unknown creditors.
The representative will typically mail notice of the probate estate to all known creditors. Any creditor receiving this notice will have three months to file a claim. If the creditor does not file a claim within this period, the claim will be barred.
The representative will also typically publish notice to unknown creditors in a newspaper appropriate to the county where the estate is being administered. This notice will run in the newspaper for three consecutive weeks. Any creditor not receiving a personal notice will have six months from the date of publication of this notice to file claims against the estate.
If there are problems or errors with the notices provided by the representative, the claims deadline will default to the two-year statute of limitations.
How to File a Probate Claim in Illinois
Probate claimants are not required to follow formal rules of pleading as in typical civil litigation. The only requirement for probate claims is that they contain sufficient information to appraise the representative of the claim's nature, type, and amount. If there is documentary evidence, such as an invoice, associated with the claim, the document should be attached to the claim. Many Illinois counties have claim forms available online.
A claimant against a probate estate has the option to file a claim with the representative, with the court, or with both. Because the probate court will charge a filing fee, many claimants choose to file the claim first with the representative and only later file the claim with the court if the representative rejects ("disallows") the claim.
Whether the claim is filed with the court or mailed to the representative, the representative may allow or disallow the claim. When a representative allows the claim, they agree that it is legitimate and agrees to pay it from estate funds to the extent that funds are available. If the representative disallows the claim, the representative informs the claimant that they intend to dispute the claim in court.
If the representative intends to disallow a claim, they should do so within 30 days of receiving the claim. If the representative is disallowing a claim that has been filed with the court, the representative may either file the court's disallowance form or verbally disallow the claim at an initial hearing on the claim.
To disallow a claim that has only been filed with the representative, the representative should mail notice to the claimant of the representative's intent to disallow the claim. The claimant will then have two months from the date of the notice to file the claim with the probate court. If the claimant fails to file the claim with the court within this timeframe, the claim will be barred.
What is the Process for Litigating Disputed Claims in Illinois Probate Cases?
An initial hearing will be scheduled within 30 days after a claim is filed with the probate court. At this hearing, the representative may allow the claim, disallow the claim and schedule a trial date, or continue the hearing to another date to attempt to settle the claim.
If a claim is disallowed, the claim will be prosecuted under the standard rules of civil procedure, including written and oral discovery, pre-trial motion practice, and presenting evidence at trial.
One fundamental rule of evidence that often applies uniquely to probate claim trials is the Dead-Man's Act (755 ILCS 5/8-201), which prevents interested parties from testifying to their benefit about discussions or events with the decedent. The act's purpose is to reduce the possibility of false probate claims. It is important to note that other parties' actions in court can waive the protections of the Dead Man's Act and that the act also contains some exceptions.
Priority of Illinois Probate Claims Explained
Once claims have been allowed by the representative or proven at trial, they will be classified based on priority. There are seven classes of claims. If the estate has enough money to pay all the claims against it, the classes are irrelevant because all claims will be paid in full. If the state is insolvent (i.e., it does not have enough money to pay all claims), the classes of claims will be paid in order of priority.
Each class of claims must be paid in full before any money is allocated to the next class of claims. If there is some money to allocate to a particular class but not enough to pay all of the claims in the class, the money attributed to the class will be spread among all of the claims in the class pro-rata. This means that each claim in the class will each receive the same percentage of payment from the estate. The bottom line is that if the estate is insolvent, a claim has a higher chance of being paid in full the higher the priority of its class.
The seven classes of claims are as follows:
- Funeral and burial expenses, expenses associated with the estate administration, and statutory custodial claims (claims made pursuant to the statute by a live-in caregiver for the decedent.)
- Surviving spouse's or child's award: These are amounts awarded by the court for the purpose of supporting the spouse and children for a period of 9 months after the decedent's death. The minimum awards are $20,000.00 for spouses and $10,000.00 for children.
- Money owed to the U.S. government.
- Money owed to the decedent's employees for services rendered within four months prior to death (limited to $800.00 per claimant) and expenses associated with the decedent's final illness.
- Property held in trust by the decedent that has been commingled with the decedent's personal assets or has been wrongly converted to the decedent's personal use.
- Money owed to state and municipal governments.
- All other claims.
What to Expect From a Consultation
The purpose of a consultation is to determine whether our firm is a good fit for your legal needs. Although we often discuss expected results and costs, our attorneys do not give legal advice unless and until you choose to retain us. Although most consultations are complimentary, some may carry a charge depending on the type of matter and meeting location.