Understanding Probate: A Beginner’s Guide

Many peoples’ first experience with the probate process comes during the extremely difficult time following the death of a loved one. Having a basic understanding of the process can help to alleviate some of the stress and pain you’re feeling, and a qualified probate attorney in your area is always the best source of information. Here is some basic information to get you started:

What is Probate?

Probate is the judicially-supervised disposition of a deceased person’s real and personal property.  Smaller estates may qualify for Summary Administration – a process that is typically less time consuming and less expensive.  Larger estates (those that exceed $75,000 in non-exempt assets) require Formal or Full Administration, a process that can take anywhere from 6 months to 1 year and will cost more.  Typically, debts and taxes are paid out of the estate first, with whatever is left being divided among the beneficiaries or heirs of the departed. Because probate is conducted in court, it allows for the proper resolution of any disputes surrounding the distribution of estate assets, such as who is entitled to which assets under the terms of a will, for example. If you are fortunate enough to be in a situation where there is no disagreement over who gets what, then the probate process is mostly just a formality.

What Does the Probate Process Look Like?

Probate law varies a bit from state to state. In general, the probate process begins with the naming of an executor or administrator. An executor is an individual named in a will by the decedent themselves, while an administrator is selected by the probate court in cases where the decedent died intestate (without a will). This person may also be referred to as the personal representative but regardless of their title, this is the person who makes sure that all assets of the estate are distributed properly under the will and state law.

Once an executor or administrator is named, there will be a hearing at which anyone standing to receive assets from the estate get a chance to contest your appointment as executor or administrator. If there are no objections, or if the objections are resolved in your favor, you will receive documentation authorizing you to take required actions on behalf of the estate.

Florida courts may require you to start by posting a bond in order to insure the estate against any actions you take that result in damage to the estate. A will can expressly waive the bond requirement, but if it fails to do so, or if there is no will, it is within the judge’s discretion to require a bond or not. When a bond is required, any fee for it can usually be paid out of the estate directly.

While probate is going on, the executor or administrator has a duty to properly manage estate property. This includes dealing with known creditors.  In some cases, Florida courts will require the probate to remain open for three months so that all creditors of the estate have a chance to come forward and demand payment of valid debts.

Once you’ve paid off all of the estate’s debts and taxes, and with the courts approval, you are free to make the remainder of the distributions to the beneficiaries or heirs and close the estate. Before the estate can be closed, you need to provide the court with a detailed description of everything you did as executor or administrator, usually referred to as an accounting. If the court approves your accounting, then the estate is closed, and you are relieved of your duties as executor or administrator.

Hopefully you aren’t feeling too overwhelmed from the information shared.  Yet, if you are just remember:  here at the Legacy Law Firm we are here to help guide you through the entire probate process, simplifying it for you and allowing you to focus on your family.  We are only a phone call away.

For more information on probate visit our website at www.yourlegacylawfirm.com or call (954) 999-9683 for your free consultation.

The Legacy Law Firm

Where Your Legacy Lives On