Probate Law

What to Know Once Your Loved One Passes Away: The Formal Probate Administration Process

For many of us, our loved ones’ passing is a time to grieve and honor them one last time.  We make sure their estate is distributed according to their wishes. 

Many people in Florida, especially older relatives, make wills to ensure that the loved ones they kept in mind during their lifetimes will have an easier time of things. Sometimes that is done through financial rewards in the form of money, stocks, or land; or through cherished tokens or family heirlooms of sentimental value.  However, before the distribution of these assets, the will must undergo the formal probate administration process in Florida. 

How Does the Formal Probate Administration Process Work?

Formal probate administration happens when a person passes away and the will has to be validated by a court. This happens by filing or depositing the will with the Clerk of Court 10 days after learning that the deceased passed away.  There is no fee to file the will, but there is a fee that you must pay to initiate the probate process.

Sometime after that, a judge will then rule on whether or not the will is valid.  If your loved one appointed a trusted person known in Florida as a “personal representative,” the judge will decide whether that person is qualified to serve in the role.  If the person is deemed to be qualified, the judge will issue what are called “Letters of Administration,” which give the personal representative the power to administer your loved one’s estate.

Who Can Be a Personal Representative and What Do They Do?

In many states, the personal representative is known as the executor of the estate.  A person over the age of 18, or an entity like a bank or trust company, can serve as a personal representative.  A personal representative can be any Florida resident or a non-Florida resident husband, wife, child, or close relative of your loved one.  If you are not a Florida resident or a close relative, you cannot be a personal representative.

In a general sense, the personal representative settles any debts a loved one’s estate may have had and also passes ownership of any assets to the recipients who are usually the person’s spouse, children, and grandchildren. More specifically, the personal representative:

1. Identifies any assets your loved one had
2. Pays any outstanding claims on the estate
3. Publishes a “notice to creditors” in order to provide notice to anyone with whom your loved one had an account, and conducts a search of creditors
4. Files taxes and pays any taxes that are due from the estate
5. Pays any expenses the estate incurred during the probate process
6. Administers the distribution of any property to beneficiaries
7. Performs any other relevant duties to the settling of the estate

How long does this take?

Formal probate administration does not have a defined timeline once the process has commenced.  It depends on the size of the estate, how complex it is, and what has to be distributed or settled.  

For example, the personal representative may have to file taxes for the estate if your loved one made any income during the year or any income was produced. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee as to how long the process can take, as every case is unique. 

Do I Owe the Personal Representative a Salary or Commission?

In Florida, a personal representative is entitled to compensation in the formal probate administration process.  There are five ways that compensation can be determined if:

1. The will provides for it
2. There is a contract between the personal representative and your loved one regarding compensation
3. There is an agreement between the personal representative and your loved one’s heirs regarding the amount of money paid
4. The amount is reasonable under Florida law
5. A judge determines the amount.

Of course, a personal representative can always waive being compensated and this is often the case with family members acting as personal representatives.

Doane & Doane: the Business Attorneys Who Can Help Your Company Run Smoothly

The formal probate administration process in Florida is set out by law and must be followed exactly as the law sets out. The best assurance of complying with the law is consulting an experienced probate attorney.

Knowing how the probate process works helps you plan for the future.  Because probate proceedings can be lengthy and costly, making arrangements early can ease much of the emotional burden your successors will face when handling the affairs left after you are gone.

At Doane & Doane, we help you determine the best tools to plan for life’s eventuality. Let us help you.  We at Doane & Doane combine big firm resources and experience with the personal touch of a small, boutique firm.  We pride ourselves on offering the kind of one-on-one attention that clients at big firms often do not enjoy.

After almost two decades of practice, we have earned the reputation as one of West Palm Beach’s most prominent probate law firms.  In particular, we understand that estate and probate matters involve a great deal of emotion. We are privileged to help clients on such important matters, and we genuinely care for and support our clients and their families.  Our friendly staff and atmosphere are vital to the quality client service we provide.  

We hope that all of our clients, friends, and business associates enjoy the hospitality of our firm’s legal staff.  Doane & Doane serves clients in the communities along Florida’s Gold Coast and Treasure Coast, including Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin counties.  For a free consultation and to get to know our firm, please give us a call at 561-656-0200.