In Florida, probate is a court-supervised process in which a deceased person’s assets are identified and beneficiaries are determined. The probate process is designed to ensure that potential creditors have an opportunity to pursue claims against the estate, as well as provide a forum for identifying the correct beneficiaries to receive the decedent’s property.
When someone passes away leaving a valid Last Will & Testament, anyone with possession of the Will must file the original document with the correct circuit court, aka probate court. The original Last Will & Testament and any probate pleadings will be filed in the county of last residence for the decedent. For example, if the decedent passed away as a resident of Greenacres, then Palm Beach County would be correct jurisdiction for a domiciliary probate proceeding for assets in West Palm Beach. If there is no Last Will & Testament for the decedent, then any probate assets will be distributed according to the Florida intestacy statute, which provides a default distribution scheme for assets based on familial relationships.
In Palm Beach County, the probate process is handled by the 15th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. Depending on the petitioner’s address, the county will determine which courthouse the case is assigned to. There are five Courthouse locations located throughout Palm Beach County, Florida:
The most relevant factor in determining if a probate is necessary, is assessing if there are any probate assets, as oppose to non-probate assets. Probate assets are those titled in the sole name of the decedent, and do not have a beneficiary designation or POD feature. All probate assets are frozen and can only be transferred through the probate process. There are many types of non-probate assets, such as:
There are a two steps to follow when identifying probate assets:
Palm Beach County, like Broward and other surrounding areas, has begun utilizing restricted depositories for most formal probate administrations. This means that the bank account which is set up in the name of the estate and is used to deposit estate assets will be a court restricted account. Unlike a normal bank account, where the owner can simply write a check to release funds, a restricted account requires a court order to release funds for any purposes, including the payment of expenses associated with the estate. Consult with an experienced probate attorney in Palm Beach County for the best techniques in establishing a restricted depository and expediting the administration.
Ancillary probate refers to a secondary probate proceeding that takes place in any state other than the domiciliary state. Ancillary probate is necessary to transfer or sell real estate, aka real property, located in any state other than the decedent’s domiciliary state.
After someone passes away, the first step in the probate process is to establish the domiciliary estate in the decedent’s state of residence. Once a personal representative, or executor is appointed for the domiciliary proceeding, the next step is to petition to initiate the ancillary probate in the county in which the real estate is located.
As an example, John lives in Connecticut but owns a vacation home in , FL. When John passes away, his Last Will & Testament must be submitted to his local probate court in Connecticut to begin the domiciliary probate process. A second probate process must also be started in Royal Palm Beach, Florida to transfer the home to his beneficiaries, or to clear title to a new owner via the sales process.
Generally, ancillary probate administration is required in Florida when someone who was not a Florida resident dies and:
Ancillary probate in Palm Beach County, Florida can complicate the already time-consuming and sometimes costly probate process, but it is the only way to pass Florida real estate to the rightful beneficiaries. Because ancillary probate has the potential to prolong the domiciliary probate proceeding, it is crucial to work with a skilled Florida ancillary probate attorney.
An experienced ancillary probate lawyer serving the area of Palm Beach County can assist with every step of the probate process, and potentially serve as a personal representative to prevent potential delays and finalize the probate as quickly and smoothly as possible.