Probate Administration

Florida probate court filings have increased at a rate of approximately 50 percent over the last decade. Considering Florida’s relatively high population of seniors, this statistic is not overly perplexing. On the other hand, the actual process of probate administration can be quite confusing for the average family.

The reality is that navigating the complexities of probate is probably the last thing surviving relatives want to do when they’re grieving the loss of a loved one. Fortunately, Florida families can streamline this process—and maximize positive results—when they work alongside a qualified probate administration lawyer.

If you’re struggling to understand probate administration, the Medley Law Firm is here to offer guidance. This article will explain everything you need to know about probate administration, including the probate process and how an experienced estate planning lawyer can help.

Ready to navigate the probate process with confidence? A dedicated probate attorney can provide answers. Contact the Medley Law Firm to schedule a consultation today.

Understanding Probate in Florida

Probate is the legal process of handling a deceased person’s estate and typically involves interpreting their last will and testament. In the legal world, someone who passes away is called a “decedent,” and the people who inherit assets from their estate are called “beneficiaries.”

All issues related to probate generally go through the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida – specifically the Probate Division of the Circuit Court. In addition to handling wills, the probate court oversees a variety of other matters. These include:

  • Guardianships
  • Involuntary hospitalization
  • Determination of competency

Even in the absence of a will, the Probate Division has a role to play. When a person dies intestate (without a will), the probate court typically plays an even larger role in distributing estate assets and appointing various roles.

What Is Probate Administration?

While the term “probate” may refer to the overall probate process, “probate administration” refers specifically to the legal process of handling a decedent’s last will and testament. When handling this legal document, the probate division follows the Florida Probate Code, which highlights two main types of probate administration: formal and summary. 

Formal Administration

Under Florida probate law, administration is the most common type of probate undergone by wealthier families. It involves careful interpretation of the decedent’s will, and although this process can take many months to finalize, it provides a clear resolution process for any legal disputes that may arise. 

Summary Administration

Summary administration is only possible if the decedent’s estate is worth less than $75,000, or if the decedent has been deceased for more than 2 years. Summary is a simplified version of formal administration, and it may only take a few months to finalize. In cases involving a small estate, summary administration can speed up the distribution of assets and help relieve the surviving family members’ financial pressures.

Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration

Additionally, there is a third process that can be used in specific circumstances: disposition of personal property without administration. It is reserved solely for situations in which decedents leave behind very little in the way of assets, and if they leave behind no real estate or real property and no outstanding liabilities associated with the estate. When applicable, this process generally leads to a very quick distribution of assets to the beneficiaries of an estate.

Understanding the Probate Process

One of the benefits of comprehensive estate planning is the ability to avoid probate, which is known for being time-consuming and potentially expensive. Depending on various factors, including the size and complexity of a decedent’s estate, completing the probate process may involve several different steps.

Initiating the Probate Process

Probate proceedings begin when the person in possession of the decedent’s will—most often the “personal representative”—files it with the correct court. Usually, this is the circuit court of the county where the decedent lived before passing away. It’s important to note that in some states, the personal representative is called the executor, but not in Florida.

Next, the personal representative may receive instructions from the decedent’s estate planning attorney on how to proceed. After filing the will with the clerk of the circuit court, the personal representative files a petition to be recognized as the legally appointed individual tasked with overseeing the decedent’s will. 

Appointing the Personal Representative

Next, the probate court will carefully examine the will to determine its authenticity. Assuming there are no legal obstacles, the court will issue the necessary documents that officially appoint the personal representative to oversee the will. The personal representative is then responsible for contacting everyone named in the will and informing them that the probate process has started. These named individuals are the beneficiaries—the people who stand to receive assets from the decedent’s estate. 

Examining the Assets

Once these steps are complete, it is time to assess the assets in the decedent’s estate. In some instances, these assets are simple, consisting only of a vehicle, a bank account, or a small amount of cash. In other cases, assets are highly complex and include valuables like family businesses, real estate, cryptocurrencies, stocks, precious metals, collectibles, and fine art. As even ordinary items can potentially become complicated if they are sentimental, the personal representative may need to properly appraise these assets to accurately determine their estate value. 

Settling the Debts

The court must resolve all outstanding liabilities left behind by a decedent before allowing the distribution of remaining assets to beneficiaries. In other words, all outstanding debts must be paid before family members can inherit their share. Note that in some cases, a decedent’s liabilities will be higher than their assets, and in this case, the beneficiaries may receive very little in the way of inheritance.

However, some assets are exempt from the probate process, and creditors cannot step in and seize them from beneficiaries. Florida state laws include a homestead exemption, which makes the decedent’s primary residence virtually untouchable. Other examples include certain college funds and survivorship bank accounts. To learn more about exempt assets during the probate process, consider speaking with an experienced probate lawyer. 

Distributing the Assets

After the personal representative satisfies all outstanding debts, they can petition the court for permission to begin distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. Again, the will should provide all necessary instructions during this process. Once the assets have been distributed, the personal representative can formally end the probate process by obtaining a “final discharge” from the probate court. 

What Happens if the Decedent Dies Without a Will?

When a person dies without creating a valid will, it is called dying intestate. This can complicate probate matters, and it may lead to higher legal fees for surviving family members. Instead of referring to the will for who to appoint as the personal representative, the court will choose one. Although the court will do its best to appoint someone suitable, there are no guarantees.

Instead of referring to the Will to identify beneficiaries, the court will follow a predetermined formula called “intestate secession.” This formula is quite complex, and it covers virtually every conceivable situation. Generally speaking, the two most likely parties to inherit assets in this process are the decedent’s spouse and children. If the decedent leaves behind no spouse or children, their siblings may inherit the assets. If none of these relatives exist, the court will attempt to find any other living relative. If the court fails in this regard, the assets could pass to the Government of Florida. 

Choosing the Best Probate Administration Lawyer

The best probate administration lawyers have seen virtually every potential issue that can arise during this process, and they know how to streamline the process to the greatest extent possible. It’s important to remember that you may end up working alongside a probate administration lawyer for many months, so it’s important to choose an estate administration attorney with whom you can effectively communicate.

Probate Administration Lawyer FAQs

Still have questions? The best way to find answers is by soliciting legal advice from a trusted attorney. In the meantime, check out the answers to some of our most frequently asked questions.

• What is probate administration?

In broad terms, probate administration is the legal process of handling a person’s estate after they pass away. Often, this involves reading their will, identifying a personal representative, handling unresolved liabilities, and distributing remaining assets to the appropriate beneficiaries. 

• How long do you have to file a probate after a death?

If you have possession of the decedent’s last will and testament, you must file for probate within 10 days of their passing. 

• How does probate administration work?

Probate begins when the personal representative of the will files the document with the court. Next, they will need to file a petition with the probate court to open the probate case. The court will then appoint the personal representative named in the will. After the executor handles any outstanding liabilities, they are free to distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. 

Medley Law Firm: Trusted Probate Administration Lawyers in Florida

In Florida, you don’t need to become a legal scholar simply to handle the passing of your loved one. Instead, you can work alongside an experienced probate administration lawyer and delegate this task to a professional. Contact the Medley Law Firm to review your case and discuss your legal options with a caring legal professional.

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Medley Law Firm is an Elder Law, Estate Planning and Probate firm in Pensacola, Florida that offers in-person professional services from Pensacola to Panama City and virtually across the entire state.

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