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An Experienced Boca Raton Probate Attorney Explains the Probate Process in Florida

boca raton probate attorney

Coping with the death of a loved one is never easy. For the personal representative (PR) named in the deceased individual’s Will, navigating Florida Probate while grieving becomes even more stressful. As an experienced Boca Raton Probate attorney can attest, understanding Florida law and ensuring you follow proper Probate proceedings are daunting tasks.

Are you currently moving through the Probate process and wondering whether to seek the assistance of a Florida attorney?

From our Boca Raton office, our Probate lawyers and entire staff have assisted countless clients with Florida Probate, supporting them during an emotionally charged time with knowledgeable legal services that offer peace of mind.

This blog, from a Boca Raton Probate attorney with over 25 years of experience in Estate Planning and Probate and Trust Administration serving Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale and the rest of South Florida, provides an overview of the Probate process. Continue reading to learn more, then contact our law offices at (561) 955-8515 to schedule your complimentary consultation. The Siegel Law Group, P.A. in Boca Raton, FL, a boutique law firm, is ready to serve you.

What is Probate?

Probate is the legal process governing estate administration for an individual who has passed away, known as the decedent. It legally transfers assets from deceased individuals to the beneficiaries named in their Wills. Probate also gives creditors and potential creditors an opportunity to file a claim against the estate.

When a decedent has a legally sound Will, created without undue influence, asset distribution aligns with the terms outlined in the Will. However, when a person passes away without a Will, (referred to as dying intestate), Florida laws on intestate succession determine the asset distribution. During the Florida Probate process, a judge must approve the Will and accompanying legal documents. A knowledgeable Boca Raton Probate attorney can help ensure that your Probate process unfolds seamlessly and complies with Florida law.

How Much Does an Estate Have to be Worth to Go to Probate in Florida?

To answer this question, let’s delve into the four types of Florida Probate:

  1. Formal Administration: The most common type of Probate, Formal Administration entails close court supervision throughout. It’s required when an estate’s assets exceed $75,000 and it has been less than two years since the death of the decedent.

In the Probate Estate, certain assets are excluded, such as life insurance policies, bank or stock accounts that have a named beneficiary, and jointly owned real estate.

This court-supervised process involves:

  • Opening the estate
  • Appointing the personal representative
  • Notifying creditors and giving them time to file claims
  • Filing an Inventory of Assets and other paperwork with the Court
  • Distributing assets
  • Closing the estate

Occasionally, a Probate attorney must make courtroom appearances, even if no one is contesting the Will. This type of administration often takes several months or longer. For estates worth many millions of dollars, a federal tax return and estate taxes could apply. Although Florida has no state taxes, if the decedent legally resided in another state, the personal representative may need to file estate taxes.

  1. Summary Administration: offers a faster and more cost-effective approach for personal representatives and loved ones. This option applies to estates valued at less than $75,000 or if the decedent passed away more than two years ago, regardless of the worth of their assets. Furthermore, personal representatives can skip or expedite some steps from the formal process with Summary Administration, resulting in a faster resolution and lower court fees and attorney costs.

As experienced Probate lawyers know, waiting two years to qualify for Summary Administration could be a wise decision, even in estates with significant value, depending on the circumstances. Consult a knowledgeable Probate lawyer who can explain your options.

  1. Ancillary Probate Administration: this type of Probate focuses on out-of-state residents who own real estate in Florida. Because the primary Probate happens in their home state, this additional Probate exclusively applies to their Florida property. Often, Ancillary Administration can be completed without beneficiaries traveling to the state, although in some cases, the individual may be required to post a bond with the Court. 

An Ancillary Probate Administration can be Formal or Summary, based on the size of the property and other factors. 

  1. Disposition without Administration: This legal procedure disposes of a decedent’s assets without an official Probate. However, because it only applies to limited, specific circumstances for very small estates, it’s rarely employed.

Commonalities Involved in all Probates

Regardless of the type of Probate, they generally require the following tasks:

  1. Locating, securing and managing the assets of the estate.
  2. Compiling a list of the decedent’s debts, possibly necessitating the sale of portions of the estate to raise the necessary cash to pay known creditors.
  3. Dividing the remaining assets, if any, according to the terms of the Wills, if they exist.
  4. In cases where no valid Will exists, Florida law decides on beneficiaries and the court approves the distribution of assets to beneficiaries and creditors.

Identifying Probate Assets

Probate assets include property that belonged to the decedent, such as their home, personal valuables, vehicle, businesses and any investment or bank account with no designated beneficiaries.

Non-Probate assets include jointly-owned property (such as with a surviving spouse or other family members), trust assets, bank accounts with named beneficiaries and IRAs with beneficiaries.

Boca Raton Probate lawyers can guide you through the necessary documentation for the Probate proceedings, including Wills, Death Certificates, bank and brokerage account statements and other relevant documents.

Filing Petition For Probate With Court

The PR must file a Probate Petition with the Florida Circuit Court Clerk in the county in which the decedent resided and admit the Will to Probate before the process begins. To ensure proper Estate Administration, the Court oversees the proceedings. Next, all legal heirs and beneficiaries of the estate are notified in writing about the Probate.

The court issues Letters of Administration when it grants the petition, naming the decedent’s PR and authorizing that individual to access the decedent’s assets and perform estate administration tasks.

Notifying The Decedent’s Creditors

According to Florida Probate law, the personal representative must inform the decedent’s creditors about the opening of the estate by publishing a formal Notice to Creditors in a local newspaper at least once a week, for two weeks in a row. This process ensures that anyone to whom the decedent owes money has an opportunity to collect in a timely manner—which usually means three months from the date of notice to file claims against the estate. If a creditor is specifically served a Notice to Creditors, they have one month to file a claim against the estate.

Inventorying The Decedent’s Estate

Before Probate can conclude, determining the total net worth of the decedent’s estate is necessary. Assets could include real property, vehicle titles, bank accounts, stock and bond certificates and other valuable personal property. Once gathered, the Probate lawyer for the Personal Representative files the inventory list with the Probate Court.

Paying Valid Debts And Estate Taxes

Using available funds from the decedent’s estate, the personal representative pays all legitimate debts on the decedent’s behalf, with the right to contest claims deemed invalid by the Probate Court. Any claims received more than three months after the expired creditor’s period, can be dismissed by the Court.

Although most estates do not meet the threshold for paying federal estate taxes, you must file an estate tax return if the estate’s value exceeds this threshold. Furthermore, the personal representative assumes responsibility for completing the decedent’s tax returns and paying them for the year in question.

Distributing Remaining Assets And Closing The Estate

After fulfilling these obligations, the personal representative can distribute the remaining assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries in alignment with their Will. Once done, the PR then petitions the Probate Court to discharge them of their duties, which, once granted, concludes the Probate case.

Contact The Siegel Law Group, P.A., Experienced Boca Raton Probate Lawyers, for Assistance

A Probate matter and other related matters concerning estate assets can create an overwhelming burden for loved ones during a time of grief. Don’t go it alone when a knowledgeable and experienced legal team stands ready to help. For over 25 years, our Probate lawyers at The Siegel Law Group, P.A., in Boca Raton, FL have guided our clients through this process with care, compassion and dedication. We are here for you and by your side 24/7. During a free consultation, we will address your concerns, understand your specific circumstances and resolve the matter legally and succinctly. Contact us at (561) 955-8515 or complete our online form. 

At our law offices, we also offer these additional practice areas: Estate Planning, Trust Administration, Elder Law, Medicaid Planning, Veterans’ Benefits, Special Needs Planning, and Pet Trusts. Let us help you create a comprehensive Estate Plan that includes all relevant Estate Planning documents and protects you and your loved ones.

I also invite you to pick up a copy of my book, Caught in the Middle: Juggling Your Elderly Parents’ Affairs While Raising Your Own Family, for just 99 cents for information about Elder Care and Medicaid Planning. 

Copyright © 2024. The Siegel Law Group, P.A. All rights reserved.

The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

The Siegel Law Group, P.A.
2500 N Military Trail Suite 470
Boca Raton, FL 33431
(561) 955-8515

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