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Florida Probate Statute 733.816: Disposition of Unclaimed Property Held by Personal Representatives

In Florida, it is the job of the court appointed personal representative to wind down the estate of a decedent and distribute the assets of the decedent’s estate to his (or her) beneficiaries or heirs. Unfortunately, in some instances when it is time for asset distribution the personal representative is unable to locate all of the beneficiaries or heirs. This presents a problem for the personal representative as the estate cannot be closed until all assets have been distributed. Florida law has specific rules as to how a personal representative must dispose of property if he cannot find a beneficiary or heir, of in cases where a beneficiary or heir refuses to accept a distribution. To learn more about what a personal representative must do if her or she is not able to find a beneficiary or heir, including the requirements of Florida Statutes, section 733.816- Disposition of unclaimed property held by personal representatives, contact a skilled Fort Lauderdale heir finder lawyer at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates. We have extensive experience representing clients in a wide range of estate and probate matters. We have the knowledge and resources to help.

Missing Heir Problem

If a beneficiary or heir cannot be located by the personal representative, the estate administration process will be delayed. In some cases a missing beneficiary problem develops because of the amount of time between when the testator wrote his (or her) will and when he passed away. During that time the testator may have lost touch with people with whom he was once close. People move, change jobs, get married and change names, have falling outs, and pass away. Any of these events may result in it being difficult to locate a beneficiary—particularly if a will has not been updated in decades. In fact, it is even possible that the testator no longer wants the missing person to be a beneficiary, but never update his will to reflect his current wishes. As an experienced Fort Lauderdale heir finder lawyer will explain, it is critical to revisit your will and other estate documents regularly to ensure that they remain up to date and consistent with your wishes. In addition, it is important to make sure that you and the personal representative who you nominate in your will always have the current addresses of the individuals you name as beneficiaries in your will.

If you do not have a will, there is an even greater chance that the personal representative will have problems locating an heir when it is time to distribute your assets. This is particularly the case when the decedent does not have a surviving spouse, children, or other close relative. In this type of situation, the next of kin may be a distant relative who the decedent does not know, or has not been in contact with recently. As a result, the personal representative and other people who knew the decedent may not know who to get in touch with the heir.

Asset Distribution

When an individual petitions the probate court to open a probate proceeding then petition must include the names and addresses of beneficiaries and heirs. Those individuals are served with notice of the probate proceeding. This puts potential beneficiaries and heirs on notice.

After the personal representative has inventoried estate assets, notify creditors, pay estate debts and expenses, respond to claims, and pay taxes, then he (or she) can distribute estate assets according to the terms of the decedent’s will. In the absence of a will, assets are distributed according to Florida’s rules of intestate succession. This means that the decedent’s surviving spouse and descendants or his or her next of kin would be entitled to receive his entire estate.

Disposition of Unclaimed Property Held by Personal Representatives

If a beneficiary or heir cannot be located, or refuses to accept a distribution from an estate, under FL. Stat, section 733.816- Disposition of unclaimed property held by personal representatives, the personal representative is required to sell the property and deposit the proceeds and cash already in hand with the clerk. If the value of the funds is $500 or less, the clerk shall post a notice for 30 days at the courthouse door with pertinent information that will put interested persons on notice. If the value of the funds is over $500, the clerk shall publish the notice once a month for 2 consecutive months in a newspaper of general circulation in the county.

As an heir finder attorney in Fort Lauderdale will explain, after 6 months has passed from the date of the posting or first publication, the clerk is required to deposit the funds with the Chief Financial Officer. The Chief Financial Officer must deposit them to the credit of the State School Fund, to become a part of the school fund. However, the personal representative can keep some of the money to pay the costs of administration.

Related Statutory Provisions
  1. Purchasers from distributees protected: § 733.813, Fla. Stat.
  2. Partition for purpose of distribution: § 733.814, Fla. Stat.
  3. Private contracts among interested persons: § 733.815, Fla. Stat.
FL. Stat, Section 733.816- Disposition of Unclaimed Property Held by Personal Representatives
  1. In all cases in which there is unclaimed property in the hands of a personal representative that cannot be distributed or paid because of the inability to find the lawful owner or because no lawful owner is known or because the lawful owner refuses to accept the property after a reasonable attempt to distribute it and after notice to that lawful owner, the court shall order the personal representative to sell the property and deposit the proceeds and cash already in hand, after retaining those amounts provided for in subsection (4), with the clerk and receive a receipt, and the clerk shall deposit the funds in the registry of the court to be disposed of as follows:
    1. If the value of the funds is $500 or less, the clerk shall post a notice for 30 days at the courthouse door giving the amount involved, the name of the personal representative, and the other pertinent information that will put interested persons on notice.
    2. If the value of the funds is over $500, the clerk shall publish the notice once a month for 2 consecutive months in a newspaper of general circulation in the county.

    After the expiration of 6 months from the posting or first publication, the clerk shall deposit the funds with the Chief Financial Officer after deducting the clerk’s fees and the costs of publication.

  2. Upon receipt of the funds, the Chief Financial Officer shall deposit them to the credit of the State School Fund, to become a part of the school fund. All interest and all income that may accrue from the money while so deposited shall belong to the fund. The funds so deposited shall constitute and be a permanent appropriation for payments by the Chief Financial Officer in obedience to court orders entered as provided by subsection (3).
  3. Within 10 years from the date of deposit with the Chief Financial Officer, on written petition to the court that directed the deposit of the funds and informal notice to the Department of Legal Affairs, and after proof of entitlement, any person entitled to the funds before or after payment to the Chief Financial Officer and deposit as provided by subsection (1) may obtain a court order directing the payment of the funds to that person. All funds deposited with the Chief Financial Officer and not claimed within 10 years from the date of deposit shall escheat to the state for the benefit of the State School Fund.
  4. The personal representative depositing assets with the clerk is permitted to retain from the funds a sufficient amount to pay final costs of administration chargeable to the assets accruing between the deposit of the funds with the clerk of the court and the order of discharge. Any funds so retained which are surplus shall be deposited with the clerk prior to discharge of the personal representative.
  5. If a person entitled to the funds assigns the right to receive payment or part payment to an attorney or private investigative agency which is duly licensed to do business in this state pursuant to a written agreement with that person, the Department of Financial Services is authorized to make distribution in accordance with the assignment.
    1. Payments made to an attorney or private investigative agency shall be promptly deposited into a trust or escrow account which is regularly maintained by the attorney or private investigative agency in a financial institution located in this state and authorized to accept these deposits.
    2. Distribution by the attorney or private investigative agency to the person entitled to the funds shall be made within 10 days following final credit of the deposit into the trust or escrow account at the financial institution, unless a party to the agreement protests the distribution in writing before it is made.
    3. The department shall not be civilly or criminally liable for any funds distributed pursuant to this subsection, provided the distribution is made in good faith.
Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

To learn more about how to handle a missing beneficiary problem, including steps that the personal representative must take to find the missing person, contact an experienced heir finder attorney serving Fort Lauderdale. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates have years of experience working closely with personal representative and other interested parties in all aspects of estate administration, and understand the requirements of Florida Statutes, section 733.816- Disposition of unclaimed property held by personal representatives We can help. Contact us attorneys at 561-710-4000 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case.

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