In Florida, wrapping up the affairs of a deceased person after his or her death is done in part by the probate court. Probate courts in Florida handle issues related to wills and to property that doesn’t have a method for distributing it built in, such as assets owned only in the deceased person’s name or co-owned assets with no other method of transfer.
Probate proceedings in Florida tend to follow the same basic process, which includes the following:
- Naming a personal representative
- Identifying the assets that must be handled in probate
- Paying the estate’s debts with the assets available
- Distributing the assets left once the debts are paid, which may be done according to the instructions in the will if one is available.
One of the key duties of Florida probate courts is to handle the wills of deceased Florida residents. A will is a document that explains the last wishes of the deceased person regarding what to do with the person’s property after his or her death. In order to be probated in court, a will has to meet Florida’s legal requirements for wills.
When a will meets Florida’s legal requirements, the probate court will generally follow its instructions when it comes to naming a personal representative and distributing the estate’s assets. When the will doesn’t meet the legal requirements, doesn’t name a personal representative or beneficiaries, or simply doesn’t exist, the probate court will apply Florida law to fill the gaps.
If there is no will, the deceased person is said to have died “intestate,” which simply means “without a will.” When someone passes away intestate, Florida law has default rules that decide who receives the estate’s assets. The rules for intestate beneficiaries can be very complex, but generally speaking, preference is given to the deceased person’s surviving spouse, if any, and children, if any.
The Probate Process
The probate process begins when the will and any other necessary documents are filed in the probate court. The case is assigned to a probate judge, who decides whether the will is valid. If the will is not valid or there is no will, the probate judge hears evidence and decides who the intestate beneficiaries are.
Next, the probate judge will make sure the personal representative named in the will is willing and able to serve. If there is no will, the probate judge will likely name a personal representative. The probate court issues “letters of representation” to the personal representative, which establishes his or her capacity to act as personal representative for the estate.
The personal representative then has the responsibility to pay the estate’s debts and to distribute its remaining assets, and to report his or her actions to the probate court. If conflicts arise, the judge will hold a hearing to resolve them and issue an “order” explaining the judge’s decision.
Probate can take anywhere from a few months to over a year, depending on the size of the estate and the number of issues to be resolved. For instance, estates that have real estate that must be sold or that have to file federal tax returns typically stay in probate longer than estates that do not.
Winter Park Probate Lawyers Providing Efficient Legal Assistance
The Winter Park attorneys at Farah & Farah have the legal resources and practical experience to help you with every step of the probate process. We understand this is a challenging time, which is why we are prepared to help guide you through handling your probate matters. To learn more, contact our office at 855-797-9899 today for a free consultation.