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Probate Court

Probate is the process during which a decedent’s will is validated, his (or her) estate is settled, and the assets in the decedent’s probate estate are distributed to the beneficiaries that he (or she) named in his will. The probate court in Florida is the circuit court. It has jurisdiction over the administration of estates. Probate is managed by the personal representative who is appointed by the circuit court. Probate administration typically takes no more than 12 months. However, there are occasions when which disputes arise involving the beneficiaries, heirs, the personal representative, or other fiduciaries, resulting in the process taking longer than 12 months. To learn more about how probate works, contact an experienced Fort Lauderdale probate court lawyer who will be able to answer all your questions related to the probate process in Florida.

Steps in the Probate Administration

Probate refers to the process of proving that a will is valid. However, in Florida the term is commonly used to refer the process of administering the estate of a decedent, whether or not he left a will.

Filing will with probate court. Probate is initiated when someone, typically the person who wishes to serve as personal representative, files the will in the appropriate circuit court. The circuit which would have jurisdiction over an estate would be the one that is in the county where the decedent resided at the time of his death. Filing the will along with a petition for probate, initiates the probate proceeding. The personal representative must give notice to the decedent’s beneficiaries and heirs. He must also publish a notice in local papers in order to alert the decedent’s creditors

Letters issued. The circuit court judge will review the will to ensure that it is valid. If he determines that it is valid, he will issue an order admitting it to probate. In addition, the circuit court judge will consider the petition submitted to issue letters of administration. Letters of administration are issued to the person requesting to be appointed as the personal representative. The letters give the personal representative the legal authority to proceed with the managing of the estate, acting on behalf of the estate, and ultimately distributing assets to the beneficiaries.

Inventory the estate. One of the personal representative’s first duties is to identify probate assets, inventory them, and safeguard them. Once this is done, he must determine the value of the assets in the probate estate. As an experienced Fort Lauderdale probate court lawyer will explain, it is important for the personal representative to understand the value of the estate as he needs to know if there are sufficient assets in the estate to pay estate debts and expenses, and to distribute assets to the beneficiaries or heirs.

Pay estate debts. The personal representative is required to use estate assets to pay any debts left by the decedent, pay valid claims against the estate, and pay expenses of administration. Such debts and expenses are to be paid out of estate assets. For example, the personal representative will have to use assets to pay the funeral and burial or cremations expenses of the decedent. Expenses related to the administration include court fees, appraisal fees, attorney’s fees, and reasonable fees for the services of other professionals. In addition, the personal representation’s fee must be paid. The fee is based on a statutory commission schedule or based on the terms of the will.

Pay taxes. The personal representative is responsible for paying any taxes owed by the decedent or the estate.

Respond to claims against the estate. Disputes may arise during the process such as a will contest, disputes among beneficiaries, disputes between the personal representative and beneficiaries, and disputes involving other fiduciaries. In addition, other parties may file claims against the estate such as someone who files a personal injury or contract claim. It is up to the personal representative to respond appropriately to such claims.

Distribute assets to beneficiaries. One of the final responsibilities of the personal representative is to distribute the assets in the estate to beneficiaries according to the terms of the will. In the absence of a will, the personal representative must turn to Florida’s intestate succession rules. This means that the probate assets will go to the surviving spouse and the decedent’s children. As an experienced probate court attorney in Fort Lauderdale will explain, in the absence of a surviving spouse or descendents, the decedent’s assets will go to other relatives. It is important to note that the circuit court will not permit assets to be distributed prior to the payment of debts and expenses.

Final estate accounting. The personal representative is required to submit a detailed accounting of the estate to the circuit court. The basis of the accounting is the inventory of assets that the personal representative created at the beginning of administration. It will also include details related to disbursements from the estate and income to the estate.

Closing the estate. Once all distributions are made from the estate and the accounting submitted to the court, the estate can be closed.

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

Probate can be a long, costly process. In Florida it typically takes up to 12 months. If the estate is complicated, probate administration can take a lot longer. If you have questions about how probate works, strategies to avoid probate, or if you need help resolve an estate dispute, the experienced probate court attorneys serving Fort Lauderdale at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates have the skill and resources to help. Contact us attorneys at 561-710-4000 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case.