Probate is the legal process that is necessary to transfer assets held in a person’s sole name to their designated beneficiaries after death. The process typically includes proving that the deceased’s will is valid (if they died testate), identifying and marshaling their property, noticing and paying creditors, and distributing that property to beneficiaries.
In Florida, there are three ways you can file for probate. Let’s take 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. In order to qualify for Disposition without Administration, the assets in the estate may not exceed the cost of funeral or final illness expenses. (Some jurisdictions allow slightly more to be distributed depending on the relationship of the petitioner to the decedent.) In addition, the estate cannot include any real estate property.
In order to file a Disposition without Administration you will need an original death certificate (without cause of death) and proof of payment of funeral expenses. The Clerk of Court in your County can assist you with the forms for a Disposition without Administration.
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 value of the estate excluding exempt property cannot exceed $75,000 unless the decedent has been deceased for over two years.
Any interested person can file a petition for Summary Administration. It must include information on the estate’s assets and value and detail who will inherit the assets and in what shares. The surviving spouse (if any) and all beneficiaries must sign the petition. If the court approves the petition, it will release the property to the beneficiaries outlined in the Summary Administration document.
Formal Administration. Formal Administration is the most common way to settle an estate in Florida. Formal Administration is necessary if the estate doesn’t meet the criteria for Disposition without Administration or Summary Administration. Under Formal Administration, the court appoints a personal representative who is in charge of performing the tasks necessary to administer the Estate with court oversight. Florida requires that every personal representative be represented by Florida counsel. Consult with an attorney experienced in probate administration to make this process as smooth as possible. The Formal Administration process consists of 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 a personal representative to act on behalf of the estate.
Florida estate administration. During this stage, the personal representative gathers important information, marshals the assets and begins administering the estate. The process is different for every unique estate, but may include the following steps:
Inventorying the property of the decedent
Alerting creditors of the administration of the estate
Paying claims to creditors
Managing and distributing assets
Filing the decedent’s final tax return(s) and/or estate tax return(s)
Determining fees for services due to the executor, accountants, appraisers, and attorneys
Closing the probate estate. During the final stage, the beneficiaries are provided with a final accounting detailing the estate transactions. Each beneficiary has the opportunity to review the accounting. Alternatively, the beneficiaries can waive a final accounting. After this stage, the probate lawyer files a petition informing the court that all the appropriate steps have been taken and the estate is ready to be distributed and 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 the period for creditors’ claims has expired; taxes, creditor claims, and expenses have been paid; and assets are ready to be distributed.
If you need assistance in estate administration 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 administering the estate and guide you through the process step by step. With the help of an attorney from our firm, you can ensure the probate process is completed as smoothly as possible and in a way that protects you and your family’s interests.