In an attempt to provide certainty to property rights, the Utah Legislature included in the Utah Probate Code a provision that limits certain proceedings where neither an heir nor a creditor has requested the administration of an estate within three years of the decedent’s death (Utah Code 75-3-107).

In In the Matter of the Estate of Eleanor Strand, a party alleged that this limitation extended to the ability of the probate court to appoint a personal representative of an intestate estate more than three years after the decedent’s death.  Not so, said the Utah Court of Appeals, and here’s why.

Nupetco Associates, LLC argued that the Utah Probate Code did not authorize the probate court to appoint a personal representative in the context of administering an intestate estate.  Under Utah law, formal testacy or appointment proceedings may not be commenced more than three years after the decedent’s death.  However, these limitations do not apply to proceedings to determine heirs of an intestate estate.  Further, if no will is probated within three years from death, there is a final presumption of intestacy and the court shall enter an order providing for distribution of property in accordance with the laws of intestacy and the court has continuing jurisdiction to handle all matters necessary to distribute the decendent’s property.

The appellate court, therefore, determined that, while the probate code does not allow a probate court to make determinations or administrations of wills not probated within three years of a decedent’s death, a probate court clearly has the authority to determine what property was owned by the decedent at the time of death and to handle all matters necessary to distribute the decedent’s property.

Of course, a probate court isn’t going to do this by itself.  Someone needs to do the legwork.  Therefore, appointment of a personal representative of an intestate estate is necessary for taking those actions necessary to settle and distribute the estate of the decedent.