After a loved one dies in Florida, family members will have a great deal to consider. If the person had an estate plan, this can go a long way toward easing the legal process to settle their affairs. While many will be focused on how the assets are distributed among the beneficiaries, the probate process handles myriad other aspects of the estate plan. One element to consider is paying off the decedent’s debts.

It is important to understand the role of the personal representative (the state term for executor) and the legal obligations to pay the decedent’s creditors. A fundamental aspect of probate is to pay off these debts. Creditors must be informed of the person’s death and that the probate process is underway; they can then file their claims. There will be approximately three months for creditors to make their filing to be paid. This is done with the circuit court.

The personal representative and others who have an interest in the estate may object to claims for payment. When there are objections, the creditor will file a lawsuit to seek payment. If there are debts and they are found to be legitimate, these must be paid prior to distributions to heirs. A report must be filed advising of claims. Once there are claims, the estate cannot be closed before these payments are made and creditors are satisfied. If taxes are owed, these too must be paid to the Internal Revenue Service for the previous year. If they are not paid, the personal representative could be held responsible for them.

The death of a loved is a troubling time emotionally, personally and financially. Probate is designed to smooth the process and address all relevant issues including paying the decedent’s outstanding debts. Still, there can be disputes over these issues such as creditors making claims when they are not entitled to do so. When creating an estate plan, it is wise to be prepared for these concerns. During probate, the personal representative may want to have legal advice to be fully shielded.