In Florida, inheriting assets from a deceased loved one is not as straightforward as many people might think. These assets, which can include money, real estate and personal property, generally do not automatically transfer to you or other relatives. Instead, a legal process called Probate, overseen by a Judge and a Court, is usually required to approve and facilitate their transfer.
As a Boca Raton Probate Attorney with over 25 years of experience serving South Florida, I recognize the concerns and questions many people have about Probate Law. Our knowledgeable attorneys, paralegals, consultants and administrative professionals understand and navigate the multiple issues that can arise throughout the Probate process while helping clients at our Boca Raton, FL office.
This blog, from a seasoned Probate Lawyer, offers an overview of Probate and answers the most frequently asked questions we receive from our Boca Raton clients. Continue reading to learn more, then contact our law offices at (561) 955 8515 to schedule your complimentary consultation. Let our law firm, serving Boca Raton and South Florida, assist you with Probate services that offer peace of mind and comply with Florida law.
What Is Probate?
Probate is a legal process that settles the affairs of a deceased individual, whom the Courts refer to as the Decedent. When Decedents have Wills, their assets are distributed according to the terms of the Will. However, in the absence of valid Wills, Florida law dictates the distribution of assets.
During the Florida Probate process, a Judge must approve the Will and the accompanying legal documents. A knowledgeable Florida Probate Attorney can help you navigate Probate Administration to ensure it transpires as quickly and smoothly as possible.
When Should I Start a Florida Probate Case?
While you can begin Probate anytime after the passing of a loved one, there are practical reasons for getting started sooner rather than later. Starting early enables you to efficiently compile the inventory of the deceased person’s assets, which the Court requires. While family members are still together to grieve and attend funeral services, they can share their knowledge of the assets.
If you plan on selling the Decedent’s home, you’ll need to open the Probate and take specific steps first. In the meantime, you’ll still be responsible for mortgage payments, taxes, and repairs.
The faster you start Probate, the sooner it can be completed. Understandably, Probates can take time, often months or even longer. And until the Probate nears completion, heirs won’t receive their full inheritance.
On the other hand, in specific cases, waiting to initiate Probate can have its benefits. If you don’t immediately need the money, waiting two years after the person’s death allows you to submit a Probate to the Court under a faster and less expensive form of administration. It also absolves you from having to pay any outstanding bills the deceased person may have had.
Ultimately, the type of Probate that is right for you depends on your specific situation. It’s best to consult with a Florida Probate Attorney to make an informed decision.
What Happens If I Don’t Have a Will?
When you die without a Will, also referred to as dying “Intestate,” your assets will be distributed based on Florida’s Intestacy Laws, which outline a specific order of priority for dividing your assets among your heirs. The Probate Court will appoint a Personal Representative to oversee the estate and distribute the assets per these laws.
Having a valid Will ensures the distribution of your assets according to your desires after you pass away. Without a Will, certain family members may not be provided for, and the distribution of assets may not align with your wishes or intentions.
What are the Four Types of Florida Probate?
Florida Probate Courts offer four options for Probate Administration. Knowing how each type works can help you make the right decision for your situation.
- Formal Administration is the most common type of estate administration, with a high level of Court supervision throughout the process. This route is necessary when estate assets exceed $75,000 and the Decedent passed away within the past two years. Certain assets, such as life insurance policies and jointly owned real estate, are not included in the probated assets count.
- Opening the Estate
- Appointing a Personal Representative
- Notifying Creditors and Allowing Them Time to File Claims
- Submitting an Inventory of Assets and Other Required Paperwork to the Courts
- Distributing Assets
- Closing the Estate
- Summary Administration is for estates with assets valued at less than $75,000 or for individuals who have been deceased for over two years, regardless of asset size. With Summary Administration, you can bypass particular steps of the formal process, saving time and money on court fees and attorney costs.
- Ancillary Administration applies to out-of-state residents who own real estate in Florida. While your primary Probate process will occur in your home state, ancillary administration pertains to the administration of your Florida property. Fortunately, you can often complete ancillary administration without having to travel to the state. In some cases, the individual may be required to post a bond with the Courts. Ancillary administration can be Formal or Summary, determined by factors such as the size of the property.
- Disposition without Administration allows for the efficient disposal of a deceased person’s assets without the need for a full Probate. Because it’s only applicable in narrow situations for very small estates, it is rarely used.
The Court-supervised process of Formal Administration includes:
In some instances, the attorney may need to appear in court, even in the absence of a contested Will. Formal administrations usually take several months or longer to complete.
In specific Probate cases, usually applicable to estates of considerable value, estates may have to file a federal tax return and pay estate taxes. While Florida does not have state estate taxes, estates of individuals who legally resided in another state may need to file state estate taxes.
Depending on the circumstances, even estates with substantial value may find it beneficial to wait two years to qualify for summary administration.
What Steps Are Involved in Probate?
Regardless of the type, Probates share certain commonalities. If you’re dealing with a Probate situation, you must:
- File the Last Will and Testament (if available) with the Court: Your first step is to officially present the deceased person’s Will to the court.
- Identify the Decedent’s Assets: This effort involves locating all the assets left behind by the deceased, such as real estate, bank accounts, stock portfolios without a designated beneficiary, vehicles, valuable artwork, jewelry, and more.
- Settle Outstanding Medical Bills and Funeral Costs: Before distributing the assets, you must settle all final hospital bills and funeral expenses.
- Distribute Assets to Beneficiaries: The final step is to distribute the deceased person’s assets to their beneficiaries following the Will’s instructions and/or state law.
Navigating the Probate process can be complex, but with the assistance of a seasoned Probate lawyer, you can streamline it and make informed decisions.
What Happens If I Don’t Probate an Estate?
As an experienced Probate lawyer knows, failing to Probate an estate according to Florida law can lead to significant legal ramifications, including:
- Disputes among family members or interested parties: By not distributing assets as directed by the decedent’s wishes or state law, conflicts can arise regarding the division of the estate.
- Unsettled debts and liabilities: Neglecting to properly settle the decedent’s outstanding financial obligations can result in financial troubles for heirs and beneficiaries.
- Complications with asset ownership and transfer: When assets are not correctly accounted for or distributed, it becomes challenging for beneficiaries to assume ownership or transfer the title of these assets. This can especially cause difficulties with real estate, vehicles, and other valuable possessions.
The Siegel Law Group in Boca Raton, FL: Knowledgeable and Experienced Probate Lawyers Offering Personalized Solutions Tailored to Your Needs
Do you need help with a Probate matter or related matters such as Estate Planning, Medicaid Planning, and Advance Directives? Trust in the comprehensive legal services we provide at The Siegel Law Group in Boca Raton, FL. Our seasoned Probate Lawyers and legal team are here to listen to your concerns, understand your unique situation, and help you resolve probate issues legally and smoothly. For over 25 years, our boutique law firm has been helping clients through Probate proceedings in South Florida, offering peace of mind during a time of grief. We can also assist you with creating an Estate Plan to secure the future for you and your loved ones and help keep your estate out of Probate. Call us at (561) 955 8515 or complete our online form to schedule a free consultation.
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.
Our law firm serves Boca Raton and South Florida. We are here for you and by your side 24/7.
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.