How a Will Makes Florida Probate Easier

How a Will Makes Florida Probate Easier

What is Probate?

Probate is the official, court-supervised method of distributing a deceased person’s property, paying off their debts, and verifying the validity of their last will and testament, if the decedent had one. During probate, the deceased person’s assets are re-titled in the name of their beneficiaries or next of kin. Florida has its own designated probate courts that offer different types of probate administration depending on the specific circumstances. Probate courts are divided by county, so if a decedent was a resident of St. Petersburg, Florida, when they die, then their property will need to pass through the probate courts in Pinellas County.

What Property Needs To Go Through Probate in Florida?

Assets susceptible to Florida probate include, but are not limited to:

  • Bank and investment accounts.
  • Life insurance policies, annuity contracts, and individual life insurance policies that pay out to the deceased person’s estate.
  • Real estate that the deceased person either held individually, or as tenants in common with another individual, excluding homestead property.

What Happens During Probate if There Is No Will?

Dying without a will in Florida is known as dying intestate. If this happens, then the deceased’s assets will be distributed according to The Florida Probate Code. The Florida Probate Code provides a chain of succession of next-of-kin that can be used in lieu of a last will and testament. Dying intestate typically results in more time spent in probate court, and breeds uncertainty among your survivors during an already difficult time, as there’s no guarantee that assets won’t pass on to a former spouse or an estranged family member.

How Does a Will Help with Florida Probate?

Unfortunately, a will won’t allow you to avoid probate altogether. However, it can still significantly reduce the amount of time that your loved ones will spend in probate court. At the start of the process, the court will hear out anyone contesting the will before deciding on the document’s validity. Once the will has been verified, the deceased’s assets are then re-titled and distributed in accordance with the will. It should be noted that, even not included in the will, surviving spouses are still entitled to what is known as their “elective share.” Under Florida law, the elective share must be no less than 30% of the deceased spouse’s assets.

What is the Probate Process in Florida?

While some of the terms used during the probate depend on whether the deceased left behind a will, the overall process is essentially the same. First, a petition for probate must be filed with the court, along with a copy of the will if one exists. Next, the court appoints someone to act as the representative of the estate, usually known as the executor, administrator, or the personal representative. The title of administrator is reserved for representatives of estates belonging to people who die intestate.

What are the Personal Representative’s Responsibilities?

Although not a comprehensive list, the personal representative, executor, or administrator of an estate going through probate is responsible for the following tasks:

  • Establishing an estate bank account.
  • Publishing legal notices.
  • Determining the validity and satisfying the claims of creditors.
  • Paying for funeral expenses and final medical bills.
  • Notifying and transferring property to beneficiaries.
  • Filing court documents and the decedent’s final tax return.
  • Selling or disposing of remaining assets as needed.

Because serving as a representative is almost a full-time job in and of itself, it’s often a good idea to hire an attorney to help – but we’ll get more into that down below.

How Much Does Probate Cost in Florida?

Florida’s probate courts are considered some of the most expensive in the country. In addition to court and filing fees, there are executor, attorney, and accountant fees to take care of, along with any required publishing notices. While Florida has no estate tax of its own, you’ll still be responsible for paying federal estate taxes, too. The average estate already takes months, if not years to pass through probate. Those with larger, more complex estates can expect to spend more time – and as a result, more money – in court versus those with less burdensome assets.

Is It Helpful to Hire an Attorney to Assist with Probate Administration?

Absolutely, hiring an attorney to help you and your family through probate is a great idea for a lot of reasons. As mentioned above, Florida has some of the most notorious probate courts nationwide, and that’s not something that you want to navigate on your own. Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult things a person can experience as it is, and probate will only make that time even more stressful than it is already.

Do yourself the favor of hiring a local attorney that knows how to minimize that stress by advocating on your family’s behalf. Their extensive legal training means that firms such as our own often have refined processes and expert strategies for getting through the process not generally known to the public. Our offices, located in beautiful downtown St. Petersburg, serve clients from all across Florida, principally in Pinellas and Hillsborough County. However, thanks to the internet, we can provide top-tier estate planning services to families no matter where they live in the Sunshine State.

Can Probate Be Avoided?

Even though a will can reduce the time spent in probate court and help ensure the desired distribution of assets, it cannot avoid probate entirely. A living trust, however, can potentially accomplish this goal, especially if used in conjunction with the federal gift exception. Living trusts are more expensive to set up than a traditional will but come with more advantages than just minimizing or bypassing probate. You can learn more about them by reading our Insight here.

Hiring our St. Petersburg firm to administer your loved one’s estate during probate helps ensure that everything runs smoothly, that the process will be over with as soon as possible, and that all assets go to their rightful owners. Let us handle the hard work so that you have more time to focus on your family when they need you most. You can schedule an appointment with our estate planning and probate attorney by using our online calendar, or by calling (727) 279-5037.

Image by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels.

About Us

FL Patel Law PLLC is a boutique business law firm dedicated to entrepreneurs and companies.

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