Estate Administration and the “Mailbox Rule” – An Evidentiary Presumption

Many times those small details relating to the administration of an estate can mean the difference between a routine case and one that may present significant liability to the attorney representing the personal representative. When assisting with the administration of an estate, it may be wise to add one extra step when providing notices to creditors, especially when a creditor is the Department of Health Care Services (the “Department”) relating to Medi-Cal reimbursement claims. It is strongly suggested that you mail all notices to the Department certified and request a return receipt.

It is well known that the “mailbox rule” provides that a letter correctly addressed and properly mailed is presumed to have been received in the ordinary course of mail. However, a presumption of receipt is rebutted upon testimony denying receipt. (Evidence Code §641.) Therefore, when testimony is presented to the court denying receipt of the document in question the presumption is gone and the trier of fact must then weigh the denial of receipt against the inference of receipt arising from proof of mailing and decide whether or not the document was received. (Craig v. Brown & Root (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 416, 422.)

In Shewry v. Wooten (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 741, the decedent Dowe received Medi-Cal benefits of $200,000 for her medical care and treatment. Months after Dowe’s death, the Department sent a Medi-Cal Estate Questionnaire form to Dowe’s daughter who completed the form and returned it to the Department. The form disclosed that Dowe, at the time of her death, owned property worth an estimated $250,000. An estate was opened and the Department filed a creditor’s claim for $200,000 against the estate. The executor rejected the Department’s creditor’s claim as being untimely. The Department filed suit on the rejected claim.

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