If a Florida resident dies owning more than $75,000 of probatable assets and the heirs want or need to open a probate before two years has lapsed, the probate must be done as a formal administration. (This compares to a summary administration, which is faster and less expensive but can only be done under certain circumstances, or several other, lesser used, types.)
A formal administration is a process closely supervised by a judge. The probate attorney shepherds the process through the various stages with the help of a personal representative who represents the estate. (In some cases, if the deceased person has named him/or her, the attorney can serve as the PR.)
Formal administrations must be done when the assets of the estate reach the $75,000 threshold. However, not all assets are included in the estate. For example, jointly owned real estate, a shared bank account, assets in a living trust controlled by the decedent, and life insurance with a named beneficiary are all not part of the total counted.
Formal administrations typically take quite a few months from the time the estate is “opened” to when it is “closed,” and it can take even longer if the matter is complex, or if litigation is involved, perhaps because potential heirs challenge the validity of the person’s will or another reason. The estate often must go to court to move the process along, even if the will is not contested.
In Florida, the process involves several distinct stages. They are:
Opening the Estate for the Florida Probate. The probate attorney, hired by an heir, gathers all necessary documents and information and files a Petition for Administration with supportive documents with the Florida Probate Court. The estate is considered to be officially “opened” when the court assigns a case number, although no real action can be taken until the judge reviews the files and issues the formal Letters of Administration, which also officially names the personal representative to represent the estate.
Administering the Probate Estate. This is usually the most labor-intensive phase of the process. Under the guidance of the probate attorney, the PR gathers necessary information to inventory the assets, identifies and notifies any creditors, pays these creditors or challenges their claims (creditors have 3 months to file a claim once notice is published in the newspaper), collects any debts owed to the deceased person, maintains the assets during the process (e.g., arranges for the upkeep of the home and car, pays all bills…), invests assets as needed (e.g., if a certificate of deposit matures), identifies and notifies all beneficiaries, converts certain assets to cash (e.g., if a business needs to be sold), oversees the tax filings, and more. (For additional information on a PR’s role, see my blog on this topic.)
Closing the Probate Estate. Once the time has expired for creditors to submit claims and the valid claims and other expenses have been paid, and the assets have been gathered and taxes filed, the attorney files a petition with the judge to close the estate. The judge then signs an Order of Discharge (sometimes after additional information is requested by the judge and provided to him or her). This Order of Discharge releases the personal representative from his or her duty and brings the estate proceeding to a conclusion. At that time all of the probated assets are distributed to the various heirs in accordance with the person’s will and/or Florida law.
Hiring an experienced probate attorney is necessary to smoothly discharging a formal administration in the state of Florida. The Law Office of Gary Landau, rated 10 out of 10 on the legal website AVVO, has successfully practiced Florida probate law for more than 20 years. The firm can handle probates in any county in the state of Florida. Contact us by phone or email for a FREE consultation to learn more about our firm or what we can specifically do for you. Attorney Gary Landau personally returns all calls to him.