Probate is the legal process of verifying a deceased person’s last will and testament. Probate includes locating the deceased person’s assets, determining the assets’ value, settling an estate by paying any final taxes and bills, and passing the estate on to the beneficiaries.
All steps in a probate are done to ensure that the person’s wishes about their assets are carried through. Most of these steps are conducted by the personal representative of the estate, generally an individual named in the will for this purpose. Florida probate law allows for the personal representative to be paid, generally 3 percent of the estate’s value.
Here is how the probate process works in Florida.
1. Identifying Probate Assets
Probate assets include any property that had belonged to the decedent individually, including their home, vehicle, personal valuables, and any bank or investment accounts that don’t specify beneficiaries. Any jointly owned property (if there is a surviving spouse or other family members, for example), trust assets, bank accounts, or IRAs that name beneficiaries are non-probate assets.
A probate lawyer can help you learn about the documentation necessary for the probate process, including the deceased person’s will, death certificate, bank and brokerage account statements, and other relevant documents.
2. Filing Through the Probate Court
The personal representative’s first step is to have their attorney file a petition with the probate court, generally in the deceased person’s county of residence. At this point, all legal heirs and beneficiaries of the estate receive a formal notification stating that the decedent’s estate is open.
The court grants the petition by issuing Letters of Administration, which designate the decedent’s personal representative, allowing that person to access the decedent’s assets and start performing the necessary estate administration tasks, such as opening a bank account in the estate’s name.
3. Notifying the Decedent’s Creditors
Florida probate law requires the personal representative to let all of the decedent’s creditors know that the estate is open. This is done by notifying the creditors directly and also publishing a formal Notice to Creditors in a local newspaper at least once a week for two consecutive weeks so others who are owed money will know.
As a rule creditors have three months from getting noticed to file claims against the estate.
4. Inventorying the Decedent’s Estate
It is necessary to determine the total net worth of the decedent’s estate before completing a probate. These assets may include real estate and vehicle titles, bank accounts, stock and bonds, valuable property, and any countable assets. The attorney for the decedent’s representative files the inventory with the probate court.
5. Paying Any Valid Debts
The personal representative pays all valid debts using available cash from the decedent’s estate account. The representative may contest claims not deemed to be valid with the probate court.
Claims received more than three months after the notification period can be stricken by the court.
6. Filing and Paying Estate Taxes
Most estates fall under the threshold for paying federal estate taxes, but if they are above this limit an estate tax return must be filed.
The personal representative also needs to have the person’s personal tax returns completed and paid for the year.
7. Distributing Remaining Assets
After all these steps are complete, the remaining property is ready to be passed to the decedent’s beneficiaries, according to the instructions in his or her will or, if there is no will, according to Florida state law. Assets that are not liquid and are not specifically bequeathed in the will, such as a home, are sold and the proceeds are distributed.
8. Closing the Estate
After the inheritance distribution is complete, the personal representative petitions the probate court to release him or her from the position and closes the estate. This action officially ends the probate case.
Do You Need Legal Help With Probate?
A knowledgeable probate lawyer can help with all steps of the probate process, enabling the case to move as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Gary M. Landau, P.A.: Trustworthy Probate Attorney Firm in Coral Springs, FL
As you grieve the death of a loved one, handling the financial aspects may seem overwhelming. The Law Office of Gary M. Landau, P.A., has been handling probates, wills & trusts, and real estate under Florida law in South Florida’s Broward and south Palm Beach counties since the 1990s. Call our office at (954) 979-6566 or complete our online form today and schedule your consultation at no cost. We can work with you in person, over the phone, or on ZOOM.
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The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction.