Understanding The Florida Probate Process
There are numerous misunderstandings about what is involved in the Florida probate process. Without a valid will, a trust, or other legal documents, time consuming and costly proceedings are often required to ensure the deceased person’s debts are paid and any remaining property is distributed to the rightful heirs. With the proper estate planning documents in place, this process can generally be resolved in less time and with fewer hassles.
Steps Involved In Settling an Estate
The first step in the probate process is to gather the documents needed to submit to the Florida Probate Court. These include the death certificate, funeral expenses, copies of any unpaid medical bills, the original will and any life insurance documents, deeds and appraisals for any property involved, copies of all financial accounts and debts, prior year income tax returns, and names and addresses for any beneficiaries involved. The personal administrator named in the will files these documents along with a Petition for Administration.
Once your application is approved, Letters of Administration will be issued, which grants you the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate. Your next steps involve doing the following:
- Formally notify all heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors of the probate proceedings. This includes placing an ad in the local classifieds where the decedent lived or owned property, alerting any interested parties of their rights to file a claim. You are also required to submit proof of this notice to the probate court and to the Florida Department of Revenue.
- Prepare an inventory and appraisal of all the estate’s assets. These may include real estate, personal property, such as furniture, antiques, jewelry, cars, collectibles, and other belongings, financial accounts, and shares in businesses.
- Settle all creditor claims. After notice is given, creditors have three months to make a claim. Depending on the amount left in the estate account, distributions of cars, personal belongings, and specific gifts outlined in the will may be made at this time.
- Settle any final taxes. The decedent’s final tax return must be filed, and any estate taxes owed must be paid.
- Prepare a final accounting. This will be filed with the probate court, and will include the value of all property and debts paid, as well as any costs incurred by the personal representative.
- Make distributions to beneficiaries. Once the final accounting is submitted, distributions of the decedent’s property may be made to their beneficiaries.
- Discharge of personal representative and closing of the estate. The beneficiaries will be required to sign an Acceptance or Waiver of Final Accounting, which consents to the release and discharge of the personal representative. The judge in the matter will sign an Order of Discharge releasing them from any future responsibility or liability and will close the estate proceeding.
The above provides a basic outline for the probate process, which may vary depending on the size of the estate and any other factors involved. For professional legal guidance in addressing specific questions or concerns, contact the Protect My Assets Law Group in Boca Raton and speak with our experienced estate planning attorney today.