The 10 Basic Steps of Formal Administration in Florida

Probate is a complex process that few are prepared to deal with on their own.  Following the death of a loved one, probate will often be necessary to transfer the assets of the decedent to his or her heirs and beneficiaries.  Unfortunately, probate must be completed whether a will exists or not.  In Florida, there are two types of probate: formal and summary administration. Summary administration is only available if the value of the estate, not including exempt property such as the decedent’s homestead, is not more than $75,000. In addition, the decedent’s debts must be paid.  Due to the stringent requirements for summary administration, most estates will go through the formal administration process.

The following is a list of the ten basic steps to formal probate administration in Florida.  Knowing these fundamental steps in advance, you can prepare for the eventuality of probate upon the death of a loved one.

  1. Deposit of the will in court—Florida law requires the custodian of the decedent’s last will and testament to deposit it with the clerk of the appropriate court within 10 days of the decedent’s death.  Your submission must be of the original will, if available, along with a certified copy of the death certificate.
  2. Retain a probate attorney—before petitioning for administration of the estate, you should retain the assistance of an experienced Florida probate attorney.  All personal representatives are required to engage a probate attorney unless they are the sole heirs or are attorneys themselves.  It is best to consult with an attorney as early as possible to ensure the correct initial steps are taken.
  3. Petition for administration—by law, any interested person, that is any person who might reasonably be expected to be affected by the outcome of the probate proceedings, may petition the court for the formal administration of an estate.
  4. Appointment of a personal representative—a personal representative is appointed by court order.  Generally, it will be the person named in the decedent’s will.  If no will exists, first preference is given to the spouse.  The court will issue letters of administration which give the personal representative authority to act.  The estate is now considered open.
  5. Validity of the will—if a will is self-proven and executed in accordance with the law, it will be admitted without further examination.  If it is not self-proved, it can be admitted by oath of an attesting witness.
  6. Notify creditors—the first step in administration of the will is the notifying of creditors.  The notice of administration should be published as soon as possible to ensure the probate process proceeds in a timely manner.
  7. Collect decedent’s assets or leave with beneficiaries—the personal representative must either take possession or control of the assets, or may elect to leave assets with the beneficiaries.  He or she will be responsible for managing the assets both before and during distribution.
  8. Inventory of assets and processing claims from creditors—a complete inventory of the assets in the estate should be filed within 60 days of the issuance of the letters of administration.  This inventory will be labor intensive and should include a list of all property along with the fair market value.  Claims from creditors must be paid within one year from the date of publication of the notice to creditors.
  9. Prepare a final accounting—after completion of administration, the personal representative must make a final account of all actions undertaken during administration of the estate.  The court will hold a formal hearing to approve the accounting and any interested persons may object.
  10. Closing the estate—when all steps in administration have been completed, the personal representative will file a petition for discharge of the estate and a plan of final distribution of assets.  Once the distribution is complete, the court will then issue an order discharging the personal representative.

As these ten steps demonstrate, the probate process is rather complex and lengthy.  At Scott Law Group, PLC, we strive to take all stress and confusion out of formal administration.  With our guidance, your task as personal representative will be smooth and simple.  Call Scott Law Group, PLC today at (727) 754-5001 to schedule a free consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Florida Probate Process

Though all are familiar with the term probate, few have a full understanding of what it is and how it works.  The following is a list of frequently asked questions, designed to increase your understanding of probate in Florida:

  • What is probate?

In Florida, when a loved one dies, his or her estate may go through the process of probate.  Probate is a court-supervised process through which one’s assets are distributed to either those heirs named in a will or according to the laws of intestacy.  Probate generally takes place in all cases unless the deceased has placed his or her assets in a properly created and funded living trust.  When a will exists, the court will prove its validity during probate.

  • How long does probate take?

Probate is generally thought to be a lengthy process, and for most estates it is indeed time-consuming.  The length of probate in any state is largely contingent upon the creditor notice and claims period.  In Florida, all claims must be filed three months from the date the notice to creditors is first published.  Therefore, it would be essentially impossible to close the estate in less than four months.  The average timeframe for completion of the probate process in Florida is six to eight months, although far longer has been recorded.  The length of your specific case will depend upon many factors, including whether real estate must be sold, litigation ensues, or tax returns are needed.  A seasoned probate attorney will review the basics of the estate and be able to provide you further guidance as to the likely length of probate.

  • How much does probate cost in Florida?

One of the most common concerns most people have is what cost will be involved in probate.  If a small estate is involved, it is important to know the anticipated cost of probate to determine whether it is justified.  The cost of the probate process will depend largely on the size of the estate, but it helps to first outline where the expenses arise.

The largest cost in probate proceedings are generally attorney’s fees.  While other expenses are involved, such as accounting fees, filing fees, and publication costs, these costs pale in comparison to the attorney’s fees involved.  Probate attorney’s fees are nearly inevitable, as well, because Florida law requires a probate attorney for most cases.

In Florida, the attorney acting on behalf of the personal representative may charge a reasonable attorney’s fee.  The attorney is paid from the assets of the estate, and therefore will impact the overall amount the heirs will receive.  Accordingly, the state has more guidance on these attorney’s fees than in other areas of the law.

The Florida probate code provides a list of fees which it deems reasonable.  The fees are broken down by the compensable value of the estate.  This entire list can be referred to and will provide you will a general idea as to the likely expense involved in your probate case.

  • Who can serve as a personal representative in Florida?

In Florida, each estate must be represented by someone during the probate process.  This individual is generally referred to as the personal representative.  Personal representatives can be most anyone, so long as they are not a convicted felon or minor, and are mentally and physically capable of performing the task.  If a will exists, the person selected in it will generally become the personal representative. When an individual dies intestate, preference goes first to the spouse and next to the person selected by a majority of the heirs.  Non-residents who are closely related to the decedent are able to serve as personal representative.

Scott Law Group, PLC, Can Simplify the Probate Process

            At Scott Law Group, PLC, we understand how complex probate can be and acknowledge the often challenging timing of the process.  We are experienced, compassionate probate attorneys who will guide you through the probate process as quickly, and with as little stress as possible.  Call Scott Law Group, PLC, today (727) 754-5001 to schedule a free consultation.