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How does probate work in Florida?

After a person dies, family members and other heirs must undergo court proceedings before receiving their inheritances.  Probate is a necessary and often complex procedure which must be considered in Florida estate planning.

Probate involves the distribution of assets

Probate is the legal procedure for identifying and collecting the deceased person’s assets, paying their debts and distributing these assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries. Usually assets are first used to pay the costs of probate, funeral expenses and the decedent’s remaining debts. Then, remaining assets are finally distributed to the deceased’s beneficiaries.

Probate applies to assets that were owned solely by the deceased. But life insurance policies, annuity contract or individual retirement account payable to a specific beneficiary and jointly owned property are types of property that are not probate assets.

Courts supervise probate  

A Florida circuit court judge presides over these proceedings. The judge will make rulings on the will’s validity, whether the person died without a will and consider evidence to confirm the identity of heirs who will receive the probate estate.

If the decedent nominated a personal representative in their will, the judge will also decide whether that person or institution is qualified to serve as the representative. If qualified, the judge will issue letters of administration which are evidence of their authority to administer the estate. The judge will also hold hearings and issue orders resolving any disagreements or questions over administration of the estate.

Personal representative’s duties

A personal representative is a person, bank or trust company appointed by the judge to administer the probate estate. Duties include:

  • Identify, collect, value and safeguard probate assets.
  • Publish notice in a local newspaper to potential claimants.
  • Serve a notice of administration about the estate administration and the procedures for objecting to its administration.
  • Conduct a diligent search for creditors and notify them when their claims must be filed.
  • Object to improper claims and defend suits by those claims.
  • Pay legitimate claims and administration expenses.
  • File tax returns and pay taxes.
  • Hire professionals to assist in estate administration.
  • Distribute probate assets to beneficiaries and pay money to surviving family members.
  • Close the estate.

An attorney can help with estate planning to ease this process. There may be other options they may recommend to assure the proper distribution of some estate assets.

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