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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.