In an opinion published on May 14, 2019, the Michigan Court of Appeals clarified when letters of authority are “issued” to a personal representative for purposes of determining the running of the two year period of limitation provided by the wrongful death savings provision of MCL 600.5852.  Estate of Jesse v Lakeland Specialty Hospital (Docket No. 341805).  In Jesse, the Court of Appeals held that letters of authority are “issued” to the personal representative for purposes of MCL 600.5852 on the date the probate judge signs the letters of authority.  The Jesse panel “revived” precedent temporarily set in Lentini v Urbancic, 262 Mich App 552; 686 NW2d 510 (2004) (“Lentini I”) where the Lentini I panel rendered the same holding.  The binding nature of the Lentini holding had been eliminated when the Supreme Court vacated the opinion on other grounds.   Lentini v Urbancic, 472 Mich 885 (2005) (“Lentini II”).  The Jesse panel adopted the reasoning of Lentini I and explicitly revived the precedential value of the holding.

The facts of Jesse illustrate the importance of the meaning of the term “issued” as used in MCL 600.5852.  Under MCL 600.5852, a personal representative generally has two years from the date the letters of authority are “issued” to file a complaint.  In Jesse, the judge signed the letters of authority on September 9, 2015.  However, the letters of authority were not mailed to the personal representative until September 25, 2015.  The personal representative filed a complaint on September 22, 2017.  If the letters of authority were “issued” on the date of mailing, the complaint was timely.  However, if the letters of authority were “issued” on the date the judge signed the letters the complaint was untimely.   Under the Jesse panel’s holding, the complaint was untimely and subject to dismissal.

In short, Jesse clarifies that letters of authority are “issued” for purposes of the wrongful death savings provision of MCL 600.5852 when the probate judge signs the letters and provides binding precedent supporting that proposition.  Jesse clarifies the ambiguity existing on the issue following the Supreme Court’s vacation of the Lentini I opinion.  The Jesse holding provides clarity and certainty for analyzing the statute of limitations in wrongful death cases.

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