Estate Administration

The loss of a loved one can be extremely stressful for the survivors of the deceased. In addition to dealing with the grief that accompanies a loved one’s death, there are many things that must be done to settle the deceased’s estate and to handle the assets owned by the decedent.

The vast majority of people have never heard the word “probate” before having to deal with the process personally due to the passing of a loved one. The probate process is simply the court proceeding required for transferring property which was owned by the decedent, to the identified beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate. The probate process is different in every state, but the typical steps involved include inventorying the estate assets, identifying and handling creditor claims, as well as eventually making distributions to the beneficiaries.

Probate administration and estate administration refer to the same process. Any assets which are owned in the sole name of the decedent, which have no beneficiary designations, must fall into the decedent’s estate and the only way to transfer or sell estate assets, aka probate assets, is to initiate the appropriate court supervised probate process.

What Is Probate?

Probate is the court process by which your Last Will and Testament will be legally validated after you die, assuming you leave one. However, most people understand probate to be the entire process of settling someone’s estate after they die. When there is a Will and/or trust which was executed by the decedent prior to death, the estate is referred to as “testate.” When there is no Will or estate planning documents to dictate to whom estate assets are to be distributed, the estate is referred to as “intestate.” Every state has their own version of an intestacy statute, which stipulate the default rules for how a person’s property is to be distributed.

There are three general stages of probate:

  • Validating the Last Will and Testament, or stipulating that there is no Will, and appointing a personal representative (aka executor);
  • Inventorying all of your assets, identifying and settling debts, and filing the necessary taxes forms; and
  • Disbursing the remaining assets to the identified beneficiaries or heirs in accordance with the Last Will and Testament, or with the Florida intestacy statute.

What Is an Executor/Personal Representative/Administrator?

The titles, executor, personal representative, and administrator all refer to the individual who is eventually appointed by the probate court to administer your estate. The Florida probate code, refers to the person in charge of the estate as the personal representative whether the estate is testate or intestate. New York, as well as many other states, refer to the person appointed by the court to be in charge of the estate as the executor or administrator. An executor generally refers to testate estates, while administrators are appointed for intestate estates. The personal representative has a great deal of power and responsibility, since that person is granted the legal authority to step into the shoes of the decedent in order to begin collecting assets and consolidating them on behalf of the estate. In short, the personal representative will have the legal authority to liquidate bank and brokerage accounts and have the proceeds deposited into a new bank account held in the name of the estate. The personal representative will also be in charge of hiring the realtor and signing any closing paperwork required to sell any real estate. Additional powers of the personal representative include requesting past tax returns, medical reports, financial statements, and other records associated with the decedent.

Duties of A Personal Representative

The duties of a personal representative are as follows:

  • Make funeral arrangements (typically handed by the next of kin before initiating probate)
  • Locate the Last Will and Testament
  • Initiate probate
  • Collect and inventory probate assets
  • Assess any creditor claims, object to claims, and pay off any debts, liability, and taxes
  • Distribute the remaining assets to the appropriate heirs and beneficiaries

Types of Probate Administration

There are different forms of probate available in Florida, depending on the circumstances involved with the estate, namely:

  • Formal Administration – a probate proceeding involving the full probate process, required of any estate that is projected to have assets valued over $75,000. The formal probate process includes appointing a personal representative and publishing notice to creditors, establishing the 90 day creditor period.
  • Summary Administration – a streamlined version of the probate process for small-value estates under $75,000. A summary administration does not result in the appointment of a personal representative, and generally does not require a publication of notice to creditors. A summary administration involves the circuit court judge issuing one order transferring all identified property directly to the beneficiaries.
  • Ancillary Administration – a probate proceeding conducted for controlling, selling or transferring real estate held in a state or country, other than the state of last residence of the decedent. Generally the domiciliary probate/estate must first be established in the state that the decedent was domiciled in at the time of death. Once the executor is appointed for the domiciliary estate, they can petition to open an ancillary administration. The reason this is required is because the local probate courts must grant authority or sanction the transfer of real estate in order to effectively clear title.
  • Administration of a Non-Resident – a type of formal or summary probate conducted on behalf of a decedent whose last residence was outside the state of Florida, but no domiciliary probate was necessary.

Why You Need A Florida Probate Attorney

The process of settling an estate can be complex and tedious. There are many pleadings that need to be filed with the probate court, and regulations that must be followed, such as providing notice to the correct interested parties. Here at the Florida Probate Firm, we have over 35 years experience providing services to the Florida community. Our expert probate attorneys work with clients to set up estates and administer them after a loved one passes away in the most timely and efficient way possible. We will work with you to inventory the deceased’s estate, pay all debts and taxes, distribute property accordingly, and ensure an orderly transfer of assets. If you are the personal representative of an estate in Florida, an experienced Florida probate attorney can help you navigate succession issues and guide you through the court process. Give the Florida Probate Firm a call to arrange a free consultation. We look forward to serving you.