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decided: April 19, 1988.



O'connor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Brennan, White, Marshall, Stevens, Scalia, and Kennedy, JJ., joined. Blackmun, J., concurred in the result. Rehnquist, C.j., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 492.

Author: O'connor

[ 485 U.S. Page 479]

 JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves a provision of Oklahoma's probate laws requiring claims "arising upon a contract" generally to be presented to the executor or executrix of the estate within 2 months of the publication of a notice advising creditors of the commencement of probate proceedings. Okla. Stat., Tit. 58, § 333 (1981). The question presented is whether this provision of notice solely by publication satisfies the Due Process Clause.


Oklahoma's probate code requires creditors to file claims against an estate within a specified time period, and generally bars untimely claims. Ibid. Such "non-claim statutes" are almost universally included in state probate codes. See Uniform Probate Code § 3-801, 8 U. L. A. 351 (1983); Falender, Notice to Creditors in Estate Proceedings: What Process is Due?, 63 N. C. L. Rev. 659, 667-668 (1985). Giving creditors a limited time in which to file claims against the estate serves the State's interest in facilitating the administration

[ 485 U.S. Page 480]

     and expeditious closing of estates. See, e.g., State ex rel. Central State Griffin Memorial Hospital v. Reed, 493 P.2d 815, 818 (Okla. 1972). Non-claim statutes come in two basic forms. Some provide a relatively short time period, generally 2 to 6 months, that begins to run after the commencement of probate proceedings. Others call for a longer period, generally 1 to 5 years, that runs from the decedent's death. See Falender, supra, at 664-672. Most States include both types of non-claim statutes in their probate codes, typically providing that if probate proceedings are not commenced and the shorter period therefore never is triggered, then claims nonetheless may be barred by the longer period. See, e.g., Ark. Code Ann. § 28-5-101(a), (d) (1987) (3 months if probate proceedings commenced; 5 years if not); Idaho Code § 15-3-803(a)(1)(2) (1979) (4 months; 3 years); Mo. Rev. Stat. § 473.360(1), (3) (1986) (6 months; 3 years). Most States also provide that creditors are to be notified of the requirement to file claims imposed by the non-claim statutes solely by publication. See Uniform Probate Code § 3-801, 8 U. L. A. 351 (1983); Falender, supra, at 660, n. 7 (collecting statutes). Indeed, in most jurisdictions it is the publication of notice that triggers the non-claim statute. The Uniform Probate Code, for example, provides that creditors have 4 months from publication in which to file claims. Uniform Probate Code § 3-801, 8 U. L. A. 351 (1983). See also, e.g., Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14-3801 (1975); Fla. Stat. § 733.701 (1987); Utah Code Ann. § 75-3-801 (1978).

The specific non-claim statute at issue in this case, Okla. Stat., Tit. 58, § 333 (1981), provides for only a short time period and is best considered in the context of Oklahoma probate proceedings as a whole. Under Oklahoma's probate code, any party interested in the estate may initiate probate proceedings by petitioning the court to have the will proved. § 22. The court is then required to set a hearing date on the petition, § 25, and to mail notice of the hearing "to all heirs, legatees

[ 485 U.S. Page 481]

     devisees, at their places of residence," §§ 25, 26. If no person appears at the hearing to contest the will, the court may admit the will to probate on the testimony of one of the subscribing witnesses to the will. § 30. After the will is admitted to probate, the court must order appointment of an executor or executrix, issuing letters testamentary to the named executor or executrix if that person appears, is competent and qualified, and no objections are made. § 101.

Immediately after appointment, the executor or executrix is required to "give notice to the creditors of the deceased." § 331. Proof of compliance with this requirement must be filed with the court. § 332. This notice is to advise creditors that they must present their claims to the executor or executrix within 2 months of the date of the first publication. As for the method of notice, the statute requires only publication: "Such notice must be published in some newspaper in [the] county once each week for two (2) consecutive weeks." § 331. A creditor's failure to file a claim within the 2-month period generally bars it forever. § 333. The non-claim statute does provide certain exceptions, however. If the creditor is out of State, then a claim "may be presented at any time before a decree of distribution is entered." § 333. Mortgages and debts not yet due are also excepted from the 2-month time limit.

This shorter type of non-claim statute is the only one included in Oklahoma's probate code. Delays in commencement of probate proceedings are dealt with not through some independent, longer period running from the decedent's death, see, e.g., Ark. Code Ann. § 28-50-101(d) (1987), but by shortening the notice period once proceedings have started. Section 331 provides that if the decedent has been dead for more than 5 years, then creditors have only 1 month after notice is published in which to file their claims. A similar 1-month period applies if the decedent was intestate. § 331.

[ 485 U.S. Page 482]


H. Everett Pope, Jr. was admitted to St. John Medical Center, a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in November 1978. On April 2, 1979, while still at the hospital, he died testate. His wife, appellee JoAnne Pope, initiated probate proceedings in the District Court of Tulsa County in accordance with the statutory scheme outlines above. The court entered an order setting a hearing. Record 8. After the hearing the court entered an order admitting the will to probate and, following the designation in the will, id., at 2, named appellee as the executrix of the estate. Id., at 12. Letters testamentary were issued, id., at 13, and the court ordered appellee to fulfill her statutory obligation by directing that she "immediately give notice to creditors." Id., at 14. Appellee published notice in the Tulsa Daily Legal News for 2 consecutive weeks beginning July 17, 1979. The notice advised creditors that they must file any claim they had against the estate within 2 months of the first publication of the notice. Id., at 16.

Appellant Tulsa Professional Collection Services, Inc., is a subsidiary of St. John Medical Center and the assignee of a claim for expenses connected with the decedent's long stay at that hospital. Neither appellant, nor its parent company, filed a claim with appellee within the 2-month time period following publication of notice. In October 1983, however, appellant filed an Application for Order Compelling Payment of Expenses of Last Illness. Id., at 28. In making this application, appellant relied on Okla. Stat., Tit. 58, § 594 (1981), which indicates that an executrix "must pay . . . the expenses of the last sickness." Appellant argued that this specific statutory command made compliance with the 2-month deadline for filing claims unnecessary. The District Court of Tulsa County rejected this contention, ruling that even claims pursuant to § 594 fell within the general requirements of the non-claim statute. Accordingly, the court denied appellant's application. App. 3.

[ 485 U.S. Page 483]

     The District Court's reading of § 594's relationship to the non-claim statute was affirmed by the Oklahoma Court of Appeals. App. 7. Appellant then sought rehearing, arguing for the first time that the non-claim statute's notice provisions violated due process. In a supplemental opinion on rehearing the Court of Appeals rejected the due process claim on the merits. Id., at 15.

Appellant next sought review in the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. That court granted certiorari and, after review of both the § 594 and due process issues, affirmed the Court of Appeals' judgment. With respect to the federal issue, the court relied on Estate of Busch v. Ferrell-Duncan Clinic, Inc., 700 S. W. 2d 86, 88-89 (Mo. 1985), to reject appellant's contention that our decisions in Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306 (1950), and Mennonite Board of Missions v. Adams, 462 U.S. 791 (1983), required more than publication notice. 733 P. 2d 396 (1987). The Supreme Court reasoned that the function of notice in probate proceedings was not to "'make a creditor a party to the proceeding'" but merely to "'notify him that he may become one if he wishes.'" Id., at 400 (quoting Estate of Busch, 700 S. W. 2d, at 88). In addition, the court distinguished probate proceedings because they do not directly adjudicate the creditor's claims. 733 P. 2d, at 400-401. Finally, the court agreed with Estate of Busch that non-claim statutes were self-executing statutes of limitations, because they "act to cut off potential claims against the decedent's estate by the passage of time," and accordingly do not require actual notice. 733 P. 2d, at 401. See also Gibbs v. Estate of Dolan, 146 Ill. App. 3d 203, 496 N. E. 2d 1126 (1986) (rejecting due process ...

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