Florida’s probate courts are busy places. In the first six months of 2020 alone, individuals filed nearly 30,000 probate cases statewide and more than 27,000 were disposed of. For most adult residents of the state, those with wills and those without, probate court is where their lives’ business is completed.
Understanding the Florida probate process helps you understand the value of thoughtful estate planning. Wills must go through probate, so you should understand why having one is important. You may also decide you want to bypass probate altogether by taking advantage of certain estate planning options. Working with a knowledgeable attorney who specializes in estate planning is the best way to ensure your legacy is distributed as you wish.
Over the past 20 years, hundreds of clients in Boca Raton, Florida, have sat down with me, Attorney Eric H. Light, to discuss their options and craft estate plans responsive to their individual needs. I can answer your questions about probate and other estate planning matters as well.
Who Takes Part in Florida Probate?
Many people take part in the settlement of an estate via probate.
The personal representative or “executor” of the estate gathers all relevant documents, inventories, assets, and debts. They also locate those named in the will, or the heirs under the intestate succession laws should a will not exist.
A probate attorney guides the personal representative through the legal process and files court pleadings.
Court filings are handled through the circuit clerk serving the county where the person lived when they died.
The circuit judge presides over the probate court proceedings, verifies the will’s validity, approves actions, and resolves disputes and challenges to the will. The judge will formally discharge the estate when the case concludes.
Creditors and others asserting claims against the estate for debts owed by the decedent are involved. They ask the court for payment of medical, credit card, loan, and other debts.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will pursue payment of any taxes the decedent owes or inheritance taxes owed. If the decedent received Medicaid benefits, the state will recover them.
The heirs named in the will, or in the case of no will, those who qualify according to the laws of intestate succession, will receive the residual of the estate after all other obligations are satisfied.
What Is Florida’s Probate Process?
There are two avenues for probating a decedent’s estate: formal administration and summary administration.
In formal administration, executors named in the will or another interested party request a court appointment. The court issues Letters of Administration which provide the executor legal access to bank accounts, insurance policies, creditor bills, and other information pertinent to the estate. The personal representative inventories the estate’s assets and debts and then pays debt and taxes from the assets before distributing the residue to the heirs. They also provide a formal accounting before the judge closes the estate.
Summary administration is an option when the combined value of all assets not exempt from probate is $75,000 or less. An executor or surviving spouse files an inventory testifying to the value of the assets and eligibility for this expedited process. Once verified, the court orders the release of assets to the heirs, then closes the estate.
The personal representative works with an attorney whose compensation is specified by state law. The basis for statutory fees is the estate’s value. As an example, the attorney’s fee for an estate with a value of $40,000 or less is $1,500. The fee for an estate valued at $1 million or more is $3,000 plus a specific percentage of the estate’s value.
How Much Does Florida Probate Require?
Although a summary administration is a shorter process, formal administration generally takes six months to one year from start to finish. However, if there are challenges to the will or creditor lawsuits filed against the estate, the process could take longer.
Getting the Experienced Legal Support You Need
Probate is a process that is repeated every day in Florida courtrooms. Although the general process is uniform, each individual estate is different. For most people, involvement in the process is a singular experience, but for a Florida estate planning attorney like myself, it is a process I have been involved with hundreds of times.
Helping personal representatives and heirs navigate Florida probate is what I do. I also work with clients in Boca Raton, Florida, who want an estate plan that will comply with the probate process so the heirs they have chosen will not be forced to endure an arduous process.
If you are ready to discuss your will or estate plan, if you have been named an executor and need guidance, or if you are an heir and have questions about someone’s estate, call my office today to schedule a one-on-one consultation.
I help people like you understand and navigate Florida’s probate process. All you have to do is call now.