Understanding Probate In Florida
In Florida, the term probate refers to the process of settling the estate of someone who has passed away (the decedent), with or without a will. Probate is necessary so that their assets can be used to pay any outstanding debts and to transfer rightful ownership of what remains to the appropriate heirs.
The process of settling a deceased loved one’s affairs can be confusing, especially if the estate is large and if you’ve never gone through the process before. At my firm, The Law Office of Nancy J. Oset in Palm Harbor, I handle probate issues for estates large and small. I advise probate administrators (personal representatives) and even act as an administrator when requested. My knowledgeable counsel can reduce the time, stress and expense of probate. In cases where the disposition of assets is called into question, my firm is dedicated to resolving disputes effectively and in a timely manner.
How Probate Works In Florida
The probate court oversees the administration of estates to make sure creditors are paid and that a decedent’s property goes to the proper parties. Probate does not cover every asset, only those items owned solely by the decedent or those owned jointly that do not automatically pass to a co-owner upon the decedent’s death. Non-probate assets include:
- Insurance policies
- Joint bank accounts
- Payable on death accounts
- Life insurance policies and retirement accounts with named beneficiaries
- Property where ownership is shared by spouses
Many estates are probated through the formal administration process that lasts many months and requires the personal representative of the state to gain approval from the court before taking certain actions. In these cases, a custodian of the decedent’s will must file a copy with the court within 10 days of learning the decedent has passed.
If the court accepts the will, the court appoints someone to act as estate administrator, giving that person Letters of Administration. This grant of authority is similar to a power of attorney in that the administrator is legally empowered to make decisions regarding the estate. This administrator, also called the personal representative of the estate, can be an individual named as executor in the will, a family member who volunteers or a legal professional. Interested parties can petition the court to be named as representative of the estate.
Duties Of The Personal Representative
As the personal representative of an estate, you are legally responsible for upholding certain duties, including:
- Publishing a “Notice to Creditors,” conducting a reasonable search and subsequently using estate funds to pay valid claims
- Defending the estate against improper claims
- Filing and paying taxes on the estate’s behalf
- Hiring professionals such as appraisers and realtors as necessary to help settle the estate
- Distributing probate assets to beneficiaries
- Closing the probate estate
If there is a will, you will be bound by the decedent’s wishes. If there is no will, assets pass to heirs according to Florida’s laws of intestate succession. Smaller estates may not require formal administration.
Summary administration, a simplified process where there is less interaction with the court, is available for estates valued at $75,000 or less. Estates without real estate or significant assets can go through a disposition without administration.
What Happens If There Is A Will Dispute?
A dispute over the validity of the will can delay the probate process. Common allegations that are leveled when challengers contest a will include:
- Undue influence – Someone close has manipulated the testator to execute a will that unjustly enriches them at the expense of legitimate heirs.
- Fraud – The testator was deceived into signing the will.
- Forgery – The will is a fake.
- Vagueness – The language of the will is so unclear that its instructions cannot be implemented.
In these matters, the court can evaluate evidence and hear testimony to resolve challenges to the will. It can invalidate the document in whole or part. It’s essential to have a lawyer if you’re facing contested probate.
Get Comprehensive Guidance Through All Stages Of Probate
As you can see, the probate process in Florida is challenging and complicated. You don’t have to go through it alone. Please call NAP or contact me online to learn more about how I can assist with all stages of the process. I offer free 30-minute consultations.