Probate is the legal process that occurs following an individual’s death. The process typically includes proving that the deceased’s will is valid, identifying and appraising their property, and distributing that property to beneficiaries.
In Florida, there are three ways you can file for probate. Below, we’ve taken a closer look at each one.
Disposition without Administration. If you have paid for the decedent’s funeral expenses or medical expenses for their final care, you may be able to be reimbursed with assets from the estate. This process is known as Disposition of Personal Property without Administration, and can only be used if the decedent left behind a very small estate. In order to qualify for Disposition without Administration, the assets in the estate must either be exempt from creditors or not exceed the cost of funeral or final illness expenses. In addition, the estate cannot include any real estate property.
In order to file a Disposition without Administration, you may need to include a copy of the death certificate, as well as bills and receipts for funeral and final illness expenses. Your petition should specify what accounts or assets you are seeking reimbursement from.
Summary Administration. Summary Administration is a bit more complicated than Disposition without Administration, but still relatively simple compared to Formal Administration. To qualify for summary administration, the estate owner must have died over two years ago, or the value of their estate must not exceed $75,000 in value.
With this process, the individual who was named as the executor or as a beneficiary in the will can file a petition for Summary Administration that includes information on the estate’s assets and value, and details who will inherit which property. The surviving spouse and all beneficiaries must sign this petition. If the court approves the petition, it will release the property to the beneficiaries outlined in the Summary Administration document.
Formal Administration. Formal probate, or “regular” probate is the most common, and typically the most complicated and costly method of settling an estate in Florida. Formal probate may be necessary if the estate doesn’t meet the criteria for Disposition without Administration or Summary Administration. With Formal Administration, the court oversees the collection and distribution of the deceased’s assets closely. The Formal Administration process can be broken down into three steps:
- Opening the estate. This step involves filing an initial petition and related documents with the appropriate court—typically, the circuit court in the deceased person’s former county of residence—and appointing an executor to act on behalf of the estate.
- Florida estate administration. During this stage, the executor gathers important information and begins administering the estate. The process is different for every unique estate, but may include the following steps:
- Alerting creditors of the administration of the estate
- Paying claims to creditors
- Gathering and inventorying assets
- Managing and distributing assets
- Investing or maintaining assets
- Collecting any outstanding debts
- Apportioning estate taxes
- Determining fees for services due to the executor, accountants, appraisers, and attorneys
- Closing the probate estate. During the final stage, the probate lawyer must file a petition informing the court that all the appropriate steps have been taken and the estate is ready to be closed. If the court approves, the judge will sign an Order of Discharge to close the estate. You may begin the process of closing the estate once assets are ready to be distributed, taxes, creditor claims, and expenses have been paid, and the period for when creditors may submit claims has expired.
If you are seeking to close an estate in Florida, it’s in your best interest to consult with a knowledgeable Florida probate attorney. Your attorney can help you identify the best method for closing the estate based on your unique circumstances, and guide you through the process step by step. With the help of an attorney, you can ensure the probate process is completed as smoothly as possible with minimal errors, and in a way that protects you and your family’s interests.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.