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A Step-by-Step Guide to Florida’s Probate Process

Fri May 27, 2022 | Probate |

Probate refers to the judicial process of administering a will. While some probate cases can result in litigation, most probate cases are purely administerial – the court merely supervises the process to ensure that all legal requirements are met and the wishes of the decedent are being honored. This generally consists of gathering the assets of the estate, paying any debts, and then distributing the remaining assets to the heirs and beneficiaries. 

While the process is somewhat easy to understand, the process can be complex at first glance. Completing and filing the necessary documents can be challenging for non-lawyers, and simple mistakes can create delays and additional expenses. If you have questions about the probate process, a Boca Raton probate attorney can get you the answers you need and guide you through the process. 

1. File the Petition

The first step in the probate process is to file what is referred to as a Petition for Administration. Your petition will include various supporting documents, including the decedent’s will. The petition must be filed in the circuit court of the county where the deceased lived at the time of their death.

If your documents are in order, the court will then issue a Letter of Administration stating that your petition has been granted approximately one month after filing. The letter will also name the personal representative of the estate. This is an important step in the process because it gives the personal representative legal authority to act on behalf of the estate and the beneficiaries. For example, it will allow the personal representative to open an estate account in order to distribute estate assets. 

As part of this process, all named beneficiaries and other legal heirs will be notified that the estate has been opened. Ensuring that everyone receives proper notice will ensure that there are no issues later down the road. 

The first step in the process is obviously important. If you are unsure how to begin, a Boca Raton probate attorney can help you get started. 

2. Notify All Creditors

Before distributing assets to the beneficiaries, all creditors’ claims against the estate must be paid. However, creditors must file a claim with the estate in order to be paid. If they fail to file a claim, the estate may be relieved of its obligation to pay the debt. 

However, the personal representative has a legal duty to ensure that all creditors are notified that the estate has been submitted to probate. This includes creditors both known and unknown. As a result, the personal representative must do their due diligence to identify all potential creditors. All creditors that they are aware of should receive direct notice via the mail. To guard against claims from unknown creditors, the personal representative should also publish notice in the local newspapers notifying any potential creditors that the estate has been opened. 

It is also important to understand that Florida law imposes very strict requirements on how and when notification must be sent and published. Failing to provide notice as required by law can create significant problems for the estate. As a result, we strongly recommend that you consider retaining a Boca Raton probate attorney if the estate has significant liabilities. 

3. Inventory the Estate

The next step in the probate process is for the personal representative to make an inventory of all estate assets. In some cases, this may be a simple, straightforward task. In other cases, identifying and locating the assets of the estate can be challenging and time-consuming. 

Arguably, the most important aspect of the process is valuation. In the case of “liquid” assets such as bank accounts, determining their value is easy. Other assets such as artwork may require professional assistance. This is important because the valuation of the estate will affect the payment of creditors’ claims as well as the distribution of assets to the beneficiaries. 

We should emphasize that the inventory process includes all of the deceased’s assets. This includes all financial accounts, real estate, and other large assets, as well as personal property such as jewelry, clothing, and vehicles. One of the services a Boca Raton probate attorney can provide is to oversee the inventory process and coordinate with whatever professional services you may need. 

Once this process is completed, the inventory of the estate must be filed with the probate court. 

4. Closing the Claims Period and Paying Claims

Assuming that creditors have been properly notified, the personal representative can begin paying any valid creditor claims once the statutory deadline for the submission of claims has passed. Any claims received after this deadline may be deemed invalid and the estate may be relieved of any obligation to pay them. 

Generally speaking, creditors’ claims must be paid in cash. If the estate does not have enough liquidity (i.e does not have sufficient cash on hand), the personal representative must then sell or liquidate other estate assets in order to satisfy those claims. As you might imagine, this can quickly spark controversy. A Boca Raton probate attorney can help you navigate this process in order to avoid unnecessary conflict. 

Once all creditors’ claims have been paid, the personal representative must then pay any estate taxes. 

5. File the Accounting

Arguably the last major hurdle is to file the accounting with the probate court. As the name suggests, the accounting will detail the value of all assets, claims paid, and all estate costs and expenses. The personal representative will be expected to produce all records supporting the accounting. Ultimately, the accounting must be approved by the court. The court may withhold its approval if the estate records are incomplete or inaccurate, so it is crucial that the personal representative keep detailed records. 

6. Distribute the Assets and Close the Estate

Once the accounting has been approved, the personal representative may then distribute the remaining assets according to the terms of the will. 

Finally, the personal representative must file a petition with the court requesting that they be discharged of their obligations once the distribution has been completed. While this sounds like a formality, it is an important step – it is judicial recognition that the personal representative has performed their obligations under the will and that the estate is closed to any further claims. 

Need Help with Probate? Contact a Boca Raton Probate Lawyer at Ellis Law Group

The probate process is filled with potential pitfalls that can create unnecessary challenges for the unwary. Fortunately, knowledgeable, experienced guidance is just a phone call or email away – call us at 561-910-7500 to schedule an appointment with a Boca Raton probate lawyer at our firm.