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Estate Probate

When someone dies, the decedent leaves behind property called can estate. In Florida ownership of property in the estate does not automatically transfer to the decedent’s relatives. First, the estate must go through a legal process called probate that is initiated when the decedent’s will is presented to the circuit court. Probate involves validating the will, inventorying estate assets, paying estate bills, and ultimately distributing the probate assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries. Probate is managed by the personal representative who the decedent named in the will and appointed by the court which oversees the entire process. If you are a personal representative, beneficiary, or other interested party and you have concerns related to the probate proceeding of the estate of a loved one, contact an experienced Fort Lauderdale estate probate lawyer who will listen to your concerns, and explain the best course of action.

When Probate is Required

Probate is not always required. Under Florida law, if the estate is small, the formal probate process is not required. If the death occurred more than 2 years prior, or the value of the probate property in the estate is $75,000, then the estate may be eligible for summary administration. Similarly, if the final expenses exceed the value of the estate, probate is not required.

Steps in Probate

Probate begins when the custodian of the will-- typically the personal representative the decedent named in the will-- submits the will to the Florida circuit court in the county in which the decedent was a resident, along with a petition for probate. The judge will review the will and if he (or she) concludes that the will is valid, the judge will admit it to probate. The judge will also issue letters of administration to the personal representative.

There are three major steps that the personal representative must complete during probate:

First, the personal representative must collect, inventory, appraise, and safeguard the probate assets. No all property in which the decedent has an ownership interest is subject to probate. Only property that is classified as probate property is subject to the court supervised probate process. probate property typically includes personal property that was solely owned by the decedent such as clothing, jewelry, household furnishings, and vehicles. Financial accounts may also be part be included in the probate estate, as long as the decedent was not joint owner, and as long as the account did not have a payable on death (POD) or transfer on death (TOD) designation. Real estate solely owned by the decedent would be probate property, while real estate that the decedent owned as joint tenant or tenant by the entirely would not. The decedent’s interest in real estate own as a tenant in common would be part of the probate estate.

Once the personal representative had identified the property that is part of the probate estate, he must safeguard it and determine its value. It is important for the personal representative to get an accurate appraisal of the value of each asset in the estate since he will have to use estate assets to pay estate debts as well as expenses related to administering the estate. Ultimately whatever assets are left in the estate will be distributed to beneficiaries.

Second, the personal representative must pay the estate expenses and debts. Expenses include the decedent’s funeral and burial expenses, as well as expenses of administrations such as court fees, attorney’s fees, and appraisal fees. Estate debts may include whatever bills the decedent had at the time of his death such as credit card bills, personal loans, utility bills, and other household bills. If there are any claims against the decedent that have not been resolved, the personal representative is required to settle them, paying only valid claims. Settling claims against the estate may require the assistance of an estate probate attorney serving Fort Lauderdale.

Third, the last major duty of the personal representative is to distribute the remaining estate assets to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will.

If the decedent did not leave a valid will, then the personal representative’s job is essentially the same. The main difference is that when it is time to distribute assets, there is no will to direct the process. The personal representative must instead look to Florida’s rules related to intestate succession and distribute the probate property to the decedent’s legal heirs. Typically this would be the surviving spouse and children. In the absence of either, the property will go to other relatives based on a priority set forth in the Florida Probate Act.

Potential Problems During Probate

Probate is not always a smooth process. The personal representative may face challenges such as challenges to the validity of the will, disputes among beneficiaries, and other problems that may lead to estate litigation. The court must review petitions submitted by interested parties, and must resolve them. The personal representative’s job is to defend the estate against disputes. Any dispute has the potential of delaying the process. Probate is typically takes up to 12 months. As a Fort Lauderdale estate probate lawyer will explain, if there is any type of estate litigation, the process can be significantly longer. In the meantime, distribution of estate assets is put on hold.

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

If you are a personal representative, beneficiary, heir, or other interested party in a Florida probate proceeding, and have questions related to the process, it is critical that you discuss your concerns with an estate probate attorney in Fort Lauderdale who has experience. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates have extensive experience representing individuals, personal representatives, administrators, and estates in matters related to probate, administration, and estate litigation. Contact us attorneys at 561-710-4000 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case.

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