If you have been nominated in a Will to serve as the Personal Representative of an estate, you do not have to deal with the unfamiliar legal process alone. Our St. Petersburg probate attorneys can help you understand your many responsibilities and assist you in every step of the Estate Administration process.
For more than 30 years, Deeb Elder Law has assisted representatives and beneficiaries of estates throughout Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. Please contact us today for immediate legal assistance.
What Is Probate?
Probate is the administration of a deceased individual’s estate under a Last Will and Testament. It is a court proceeding for assembling and sorting out a decedent’s assets; paying taxes, debts and expenses; and distributing assets to heirs and beneficiaries.
Under Florida law, an individual leaving a valid will has the ability to make certain decisions concerning his or her estate. This includes choosing a personal representative who is responsible for administering the estate, and establishing beneficiaries who will receive the estate assets.
Generally, probate is required only when a person dies leaving assets titled solely in his or her own name. The entire process is overseen by the Probate division of Florida Circuit Courts where the maker of the will resides. In most cases, hiring an attorney is required to assist the Personal Representative with the Estate Administration in Florida.
What Is the Probate Process?
Every probate estate is unique, but most uncontested Florida probate Estate Administrations involve the following steps:
- File the original Will and a petition for administration with the Florida probate court.
- Send notice to known beneficiaries and heirs and to creditors under the Will regarding the filing of the probate action. A legal notice to potential creditors is published in a local newspaper.
- Personal representative is appointed for the estate.
- Inventory and valuation of estate assets is done by representative.
- Representative fulfills payment of outstanding, legally enforceable estate debt to appropriate creditors.
- Representative fulfills the sale of estate assets.
- Representative handles payment of estate taxes, if applicable.
- Representative makes a final accounting and distributes all remaining assets to heirs.
What Are Probate Assets?
Normally, assets required to pass through Florida probate are those owned solely by a decedent which contain no provisions for automatic transfer of ownership at death. These would include bank accounts titled in the name of the decedent only, life insurance policies payable to the decedent’s estate, and real estate titled in the decedent’s name only (unless it is protected homestead which is not subject to creditor claims).
Does a Will Avoid Probate in Florida?
A Will does not avoid probate. In cases where probate is required, it is important to know that sometimes family and loved ones may actually benefit from the finality and oversight that accompanies a probate proceeding.
How Can I Avoid Probate?
Proper Estate Planning can allow you to arrange your assets so that you may bypass the probate process in Florida.
Trusts are frequently used in Estate Planning as a way to avoid Florida probate. Unlike a Last Will and Testament, Trusts are private Estate Planning instruments and are not filed with the probate court.
Joint tenancy with right of survivorship is one of several ways for two or more people to hold an interest in the same property at the same time. For example, if an asset had a joint tenant with a survivorship interest or a designated beneficiary, that asset would not pass through probate.
Most property can be held in joint tenancy, including personal property such as checking or savings accounts, or real property such as homes, buildings and land.
The following are some methods used to avoid probate:
- Transfer property to a living trust
- Transfer property from individual ownership to joint ownership (this may not be the appropriate choice in all situations)
- Include a “payable on death” designation on bank accounts
- Include a “transfer on death” designation on securities account
- Name a beneficiary to retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)
Because Estate Planning and Elder Law attorneys are trained to provide appropriate information on when and how to avoid probate proceedings, it is always recommended to consult with a qualified attorney when making Estate Planning decisions.
Contact a St. Petersburg Probate Attorney
The administration of an estate is often very confusing, complex and emotional. Our Florida probate lawyers provide compassionate, experienced representation to clients throughout the Tampa Bay area.
If you have a question or need help with Florida Estate Administration, contesting a Will, or an inheritance dispute, please call the lawyers at Deeb Elder Law at (727) 381-9800.
We are also happy to assist with complex Estate Planning and Trust Administration.