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What is the probate process?

When a person in Florida dies with a will, probate is usually necessary to validate the will and to complete the process of paying creditors and distributing assets. If a person dies without a will, probate may also be necessary, but the state determines how assets are distributed if the person does not have other estate planning documents in place.

First steps

A person’s will must be filed with the court, which then must authenticate it. The will generally names an executor, but if not, the court can appoint one. While there are situations in which there are challenges to the will, this is usually a fairly straightforward process.

Dealing with assets

The executor must then locate all assets. The complexity of this task has a lot to do with how well-prepared the individual was. If they have not kept clear records of all their assets, this may involve some detective work. The executor then must keep these assets safe, which in the case of property can mean keeping up with taxes and other payments. They may also need to put more portable assets in a safe location. Assets may need to be assessed for value.

Dealing with money owed

Creditors and taxes must be paid before assets can be distributed. The court must then approve the executor’s financial accounting. Distribution of assets is the final step in the probate process, and the estate can then be closed.

While these steps may sound daunting, executors are not required to be legal or financial experts to complete the probate process, and in fact, they may wish to hire an attorney to assist them. The attorney can be paid by the estate. There are also specific circumstances in which an attorney may be helpful, such as in a dispute over the will.