If you have a loved one who is ill, or if you are simply curious about the process of probate in Florida, then this is the article for you.
While there are other types of probate, such as a summary administration, the most common type of probate administration is a formal administration. In that vein, having a handle on the basic steps of formal probate in Florida will give you some insight so that you can appropriately draft your last will and testament, or otherwise effectively engage in meaningful estate planning.
If, after reviewing this blog, you have additional questions about probate in Florida, then you should contact an experienced probate attorney. We at Doane & Doane are very experienced in probate administration matters, and we invite you to call us to discuss your personal circumstances further. For a free consultation and to get to know our firm, please give us a call at 561-656-0200.
Now, on to the 10 basic steps of formal probate administration in Florida. Given that every estate is different, and presents different issues, every step in the following list may not be relevant in certain cases. Yet, overall, these 10 steps will give you a basic framework for the probate process.
1. Deposit of Will with the Court. The probate process begins with alerting the court to a person’s death. Accordingly, within ten days of learning of a person’s death, a custodian of that person’s will must deposit the person’s last will and testament with the clerk of the court in the appropriate jurisdiction.
2. Petition for Formal Administration. Next, a request to the court must be made to “administer” the estate. This request, or petition, can be made by any interested person. Importantly, the term “interested person” includes anyone who can reasonably expect to be impacted by the results of a formal probate administration. That would include a beneficiary. Normally, courts will interpret the term “interested person” broadly. It should be noted that a petition for administration can be made regardless of whether the deceased had a will, or died intestate (i.e., without a will).
3. Appointing a Personal Representative. The terms executor or executrix are not used under Florida law. Rather, Florida law prefers the term “personal representative.” The personal representative is typically appointed by court order. The court also grants “letters of administration,” which give the representative the authority to act on behalf of the decedent.
4. Access to Safe Deposit Box, if Necessary. There are occasions when a decedent’s will cannot be found among his or her personal effects. Accordingly, it may be necessary to gain access to the decedent’s safe deposit box for a will and other important documents. To gain access, a personal representative (or other person) may petition for a court order allowing that relevant person to get access to the decedent’s safe deposit box.
5. Establish Validity of the Will. One key element in a probate administration is ensuring that the will is valid. There are three general ways to accomplish that. First, a will can be “self-proved” and executed under Florida law. If that is the case, then validity is no longer a question, and the will can be admitted to probate. Second, a will that is not self-proved can be admitted as valid if any witness to the will attests to its validity under oath. Third, if the first two methods are not available, then a will may be admitted to probate only based on the oath of the personal representative named in the will, or based on the oath of any individual who has no interest in the will, who can attest to a belief that the will is valid.
6. Managing Assets during Process. During the probate process and during distribution of the decedent’s estate, the personal representative has the responsibility to manage the assets in the estate, which includes inventorying the assets and making property transfer decisions.
7. Accounting During the Interim. The personal representative has the option to file one or more “interim accountings” of the estate with the court before he or she must file the final accounting with the court. This is not mandatory, but could be helpful to avoid problems down the road when the accounting becomes final.
8. Completing a Final Accounting. Once an estate is administered, meaning that disbursements have been made to creditors, the personal representative is required to make a final accounting of all of the actions taken in connection with administering the estate. This accounting is filed with the court, and the court holds a hearing to approve the accounting. Any interested person may file an objection to the accounting within 30 days of receiving notice of the accounting.
9. Closing the Estate. At the end of the process, the personal representative files a petition for discharge, which includes a plan for final distribution of the estate’s assets. The court will then enter an order discharging the personal representative after the distribution of assets and creditors’ claims have been resolved.
10. Estate Reopening. There are occasions when additional property or assets are discovered after the estate is closed, or that there is evidence of fraud. In those cases, a court may reopen an estate, by revoking the order of discharge, and determine whether further administration is necessary.
Let Doane & Doane Help with Your Probate Issues
Whether it is assistance to administer an estate, or assist an appointed personal representative, you should engage the help of the probate attorneys at Doane & Doane.
Florida fiduciaries seek the assistance of the attorneys of Doane & Doane, P.A. to administer and manage their trusts and estates frequently. The founding partners of Doane & Doane are board certified West Palm Beach Probate Attorneys. With the additional advantage of certified public accountancy in their backgrounds, they present a unique combination of skills and experience which enables them to effectively settle, administer, and manage clients’ trusts and estates.
Overseeing an estate can be a time-consuming and complicated process. We help clients every step of the way. Our probate administrative services include:
- Proving in court that a deceased person’s will is valid
- Identifying and inventorying the deceased person’s property
- Property appraisal
- Supervising and arranging the estate’s debts and taxes
- Distributing property as directed by a will
- Transferring title and ownership of assets to the proper beneficiaries
In addition, the personal representative, executor, or executrix must follow Florida law to conclude the decedent’s affairs, including:
- Giving the proper notices to proper parties
- Collecting the decedent’s property
- Receiving claims against the estate
- Paying valid claims and disputing others
- Distributing estate property according to the will or state law
- Selling estate property to cover debts or allow for proper distribution, if necessary
Let us at Doane & Doane help serve as a personal representative. Contact a Doane & Doane professional today by calling 561-656-0200.