Florida Probate and Estate Attorneys
Probate is the official court-supervised process for transferring the assets within a deceased person’s estate to his/her beneficiaries. In Florida, the probate process varies depending on whether or not the decedent had a will, the value of the estate, and other factors. In some cases, probate administration can be a fairly smooth process. In other cases (such as when there are will challenges), the process can become more complex and difficult to resolve. Whichever the case, it is best to work with an experienced attorney to help ensure that the decedent’s final wishes are fully carried out.
At the Law Offices of Whibbs, Stone & Barnett, P.A., we are here to provide skilled guidance with probate and estate administration, will contests, probate litigation, and all related legal matters. Our attorneys have over 60 years of combined experience assisting clients in Florida with a wide range of legal matters, and our depth of knowledge in this area of the law gives our clients the assurance that they will have their loved one’s estate settled in the most effective and cost-efficient manner.
The Florida Probate Process
In many instances, the estate of a decedent in Florida will have to go through probate. However, there are some cases in which the estate may qualify for a simpler process and/or some of the assets may not need to be probated. Examples of assets that do not need to go through probate include:
- Jointly-Owned Property: Property that is held in joint tenancy by more than one person, such as a couple who owns a house together, or has a bank account that is in both of their names.
- Assets with a Designated Beneficiary: Bank accounts with a payable on death (POD) designation, stock accounts with a transfer and death (TOD) designation, retirement accounts and life insurance policies with designated beneficiaries, and real estate property that is held in a “Lady Bird” deed/enhanced life estate.
- Assets within a Living Trust: Property that was placed within a revocable living trust while the decedent was still alive can be distributed directly to beneficiaries without the need for probate.
Disposition without Administration
Some very small estates may qualify for a process called disposition without administration if they meet the following requirements:
- The decedent did not have any real estate property;
- The assets within the estate are exempt from the claims of creditors and do not exceed the decedent’s final expenses.
Final expenses may include funeral and burial costs as well as reasonable medical costs from the final 60 days of a decedent’s terminal illness.
A simplified probate process known as summary administration be used for estates in which:
- The decedent has been dead for at least two years; Or
- The value of all the assets within the estate that are exempt from the claims of creditors does not exceed $75,000.
After all the required paperwork has been filed and the appropriate procedures have been followed, the court does not appoint a personal representative. Instead, it issues an order releasing the property within the estate to the appropriate beneficiaries.
Formal Probate Administration
If the estate does not qualify to bypass probate or go through a simplified procedure, it will need to go through regular probate. This usually takes place in the county where the decedent was living at the time of his or her death. If there was a will, the will must be filed in the appropriate circuit court within 10 days of learning of the decedent’s death.
The will nominates a personal representative (also known as an “executor”) to administer the final affairs of the estate. The person nominated in the will is normally the one who serves as personal representative, unless the court finds a compelling reason to appoint someone else. In the absence of a will, a personal representative is appointed by the court.
Once a personal representative is appointed, the court issues a document called Letters of Administration giving that person the authority to settle the estate. If there was a will, the court may automatically recognize its validity if the witnesses signed notarized statements and the document conforms with Florida law. If the will is determined to be valid and there are no will challenges, the personal representative proceeds with the accounting process.
Under the supervision of the court, the personal representative takes inventory of all assets and property, pays all debts and taxes, and distributes what is left to the heirs/beneficiaries (as per the terms and conditions of the will). Once this is complete, the personal representative submits a final accounting to the court and files a petition to discharge the estate. If someone objects to the way the estate is being administered, they may file that objection with the court. In some cases, this can result in costly and protracted probate litigation.
Probate Litigation in Florida
During the administration of an estate, interested parties may have various objections. These objections can often be handled informally; but sometimes, they result in legal challenges. One of the most common issues that arises is when someone challenges the validity of the will. This is often done because of alleged undue influence (e.g., the decedent was under coercion by a person who was in a position of trust and control), mental incapacitation, or that the will was not executed properly.
Probate litigation can also involve issues such as:
- Wills that are vaguely worded and/or do not properly dispose of the decedent’s entire estate;
- Determination of heirs (when no will was left and/or the decedent has very little family);
- Survivorship claims;
- Breach of fiduciary duty (e.g., failure of the personal representative to properly administer an estate).
Speak with Our Seasoned Florida Probate Lawyers
Losing a loved one is never easy. And dealing with the subsequent probate and estate issues can make things even more stressful. At the Law Offices of Whibbs, Stone & Barnett, P.A., we understand the challenges personal representatives and other family members face in handling the final affairs of a loved one. We work closely with our clients, putting our extensive experience to work to help them successfully navigate the complexities of the often-confusing Florida probate process.
If you need assistance with probate administration, probate litigation, or any other estate-related legal issue, we are here to help! For a consultation with one of our attorneys, call our office today at 850-500-1111 or send us a message through our online contact form.