Stephen Bilkis
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Upon the death of an individual, the property in his (or her) estate will be passed on to his beneficiaries, if the decedent wrote a will, or to his next of kin in the absence of a will. The process during which all outstanding issues related to the decedent’s estate are sorted out so that the property can be transferred to the beneficiaries or heirs is referred to as probate or estate administration. It is overseen by the Florida circuit court and managed by the personal representative appointed by the circuit court with jurisdiction over the matter. In Florida probate typically takes between up to 12 months, but can take quite a bit longer if the estate is complicated. With years of experience representing clients in estate matters in Florida, the Fort Lauderdale estate lawyers at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates understand the process of probating a Florida estate, including estate with complex assets and high value assets.

Settling an Estate

During probate the personal representative is responsible for making sure that the decedent’s estate is properly closed. This means that he must collect, inventory, appraise, and safeguard the probate assets. He must also pay estate debt and expenses, file tax returns, and pay taxes owed. The final steps in the administration process include submitting a final accounting to the circuit court and distributing assets to creditors, filing a final accounting with the probate court, and distributing the assets to beneficiaries and heirs.

Probate Property

It is important to understand that only property that is considered probate property is subject court supervised administration. Typically, probate property includes personal property such as bank accounts, vehicles, clothing, jewelry, collectibles, pets, appliances, and home furnishings. It also includes real estate than you own individually or as a tenant in common.

Property that is typically not a part of your probate estate includes bank accounts and other financial accounts with a pay on death (POD) or transfer on death (TOD) designation and retirement accounts such as IRAs, ESOPs, profit sharing plans, and 401(k) plans with beneficiary designations. Real estate and personal property owned by the decedent with someone else as joint tenants or tenants by the entire is not probate property, nor is life insurance with beneficiaries other than the decedent’s estate and property that was transferred to a living trust. Property that is not probate property will pass to the beneficiaries outside of probate administration and is not subject to intestate succession distribution. This usually means that the beneficiaries will receive it fairly quickly after the decedent’s death.

Estate Administration Problems

During probate administration there are sometimes disputes and complications that can lead to estate litigation and that can cause delays in the distribution of estate assets.

Will contests. If an interested party such as a beneficiary, beneficiary of a prior will, or heir believes that the will is invalid, Florida law gives them the legal right to petition the court to object to probate or revoke probate. However, to object to a will you must have legal grounds and evidence. Common grounds include lack of mental capacity, undue influence, and improper execution. If you are concerned that the will of a loved one is invalid, it is critical that you immediately contact an experienced Fort Lauderdale estate lawyer to discuss your concerns. .

Objections to the final accounting. The personal representative is required to submit to the circuit court a final accounting of the activities he undertook in the process of winding up the estate. The accounting must include details the initial asset inventory as well as details of all of the money that was disbursed from the estate, including payments to creditors, fees related to managing the estate, and distributions. If someone believes that there are discrepancies with the accounting or some type of fraud, that person may file an objection.

Intestate Succession

If someone passes away without leaving a will, then that person’s estate will be distributed to his legal heirs based on Florida’s rules of intestates succession. This means that instead of the decedent’s property going to specific family, friends, and institutions selected by the decedent, the property will go to relatives based rules set forth in the statute. To learn more about the problems associated with intestacy, contact an experienced estate attorney in Fort Lauderdale.

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

Whether you are a personal representative, beneficiary, or heir, settling an estate after a loved one’s death can be emotional and complicated. In order to minimize the possibility of disputes and other complications related to winding up your estate, it is important that you have a comprehensive, customized estate planned created by an experienced attorney. The staff at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates has years of experience representing clients in estate matters before the Florida circuit court. Whether you are involved in an estate dispute or you have questions related to your estate plan, we have the skill and resources to help. Contact an experienced estate attorney serving Fort Lauderdale in our office attorneys at 561-710-4000 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We serve clients throughout Fort Lauderdale.