Summoning the Unknown

April 23, 2018 § 2 Comments

It’s frustrating and expensive to find out that your summons by publication for unknown heirs is rejected because you didn’t do it right. Nine out of ten times the flaw is in the affidavit that is required to precede publication.

“What?” you say, “there must be an affidavit?”

Oui, mon ami. Consider the language of MRCP 4:

MRCP 4(c)(4)(D): When unknown heirs are made parties defendant in any proceeding in the chancery court, upon affidavit that the names of such heirs are unknown, the plaintiff may have publication of summons for them and such proceedings shall be thereupon in all respects as are authorized in the case of a nonresident defendant …

MRCP 4(d)(4)(A): If the defendant in any proceeding in a chancery court, or in any proceeding in any other court where process by publication is authorized by statute, be shown by sworn complaint or sworn petition, or by a filed affidavit, to be a nonresident of this state or not to be found therein on diligent inquiry and the post office address of such defendant be stated in the complaint, petition, or affidavit, or if it be stated in such sworn complaint or petition that the post office address of the defendant is not known to the plaintiff or petitioner after diligent inquiry, or if the affidavit be made by another for the plaintiff or petitioner, that such post office address is unknown to the affiant after diligent inquiry and he believes it is unknown to the plaintiff or petitioner after diligent inquiry by the plaintiff or petitioner, the clerk, upon filing the complaint or petition, account or other commencement of a proceeding, shall promptly prepare and publish a summons to the defendant to appear and defend the suit. The summons shall be substantially in the form set forth in Form 1-C.

Notice that the affidavit is required to be made and filed before publication.

Here’s the 1-2-3 of how to do it:

  1. Have your fiduciary or someone with personal knowledge sign an affidavit that (a) there are no other persons known to be heirs of the decedent, and, if there are, they are unknown to the affiant, (b) after diligent inquiry.
  2. The affidavit must be filed before issuance of the summons.
  3. The publication must be substantially in the form of Form 1-C.

That’s all there is to it. That will result in an effective publication.

It’s important that you do it right, because bad process is ineffective to confer jurisdiction. A judgment rendered without jurisdiction is void.

Here are some tips for the more zealous among you:

  • Any sworn statement with the proper language filed before issuance of the summons will do the job, so why not revamp your form complaint to open an intestate estate to include the affidavit language.
  • If you do a stand-alone complaint for determination of heirship, add a paragraph with the appropriate language and make sure it is sworn to by a client with knowledge. One lawyer I know added a prayer for determination of heirship to his estate-opening complaint so that he did not have to file a separate pleading.
  • While you’re at it, erase all the faulty affidavits and pleadings from your cloud or hard drive lest you repeat the same old errors by using incorrect forms.

Why is all this necessary? Because MCA § 91-7-293 requires in part that “The executor or administrator shall file with his final account a written statement, under oath, of the names of the heirs or devisees and legatees of the estate, so far as known … the statement must aver that diligent inquiry has been made to learn the same without avail …”

This is a subject I have posted about often, and probably will again as long as lawyers keep tripping over themselves. You can access those prior posts by entering “unknown heirs” in the search box.

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