Probate 101: A Guide to the Probate Process

When a person passes away, their estate must be settled. In Florida, many estates will go through a legal process known as probate.  As explained by the Florida Courts, “probate is a court-supervised process” during which a deceased person’s assets will be identified, gathered, and eventually distributed to the proper beneficiaries. 

There are many myths and misconceptions about how this process actually works. At The Law Offices of Odelia Goldberg, we have extensive experience helping people and families plan for and navigate complex probate law matters. In this article, our Fort Lauderdale probate administration attorney provides a guide to the probate process in Florida. 

Understanding Probate in Florida: An Overview of the Basics

Broadly explained, probate is the legal process through which a deceased person’s assets are managed and distributed. When a Florida resident dies, their estate is generally handled through a court-supervised process. Notably, probate is usually handled at the county level. An estate in Fort Lauderdale goes through a Broward County probate court. The court will ensure that property is identified, debts are paid, and all remaining assets are allocated to rightful heirs. The timing and complexity of the probate process can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case. 

Know the Two Types of Probate (And a Third Limited Option)

Probate is not the same in every case. In Florida, there are actually two distinct forms of probate. Beyond that, there is a third non-probate estate option that is available in a limited number of cases. Here is an overview of the different types of probate in Florida: 

  • Formal Administration: Formal Administration is the standard probate process. When people use the term “probate”, they are often referring to formal administration. Notably, this form of probate is for midsize estates and larger estates. It may also be needed when complexities require detailed court supervision. In Florida, formal administration is the probate method that is generally required for estates valued over $75,000—not including exempt property
  • Summary Administration: Summary Administration is a streamlined probate option available for smaller estates where the total value of probate assets is less than $75,000. It is a quicker, more efficient probate option. 
  • Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration: Disposition is used when the deceased person’s estate consists primarily of personal property that is either exempt from creditors or does not exceed the amount of final expenses. It is a very limited option that is technically not a form of probate at all. 

What is the Role of the Executor in Florida Probate?

In probate in Florida, the executor—also commonly known as the personal representative—plays an essential role in the process. The executor is tasked with taking the estate through the process, ensuring things are handled properly and assets are safeguarded. Among other things, an executor is responsible for submitting the will, identifying property, paying valid debts and taxes, and, eventually, distributing the remaining property to the rightful beneficiaries. 

An Overview of the Key Steps in Florida’s Probate Process

With a basic background of what probate is, it is useful to understand how the process actually works in place. Here is an overview of the key steps of the probate process in Broward County: 

  • Filing the Will and Death Certificate: In Florida, the probate process begins with the filing of the decedent’s last will and testament and the official death certificate with the appropriate county court. The court will verify the validity of the will. 
  • Appointment of the Personal Representative (Executor): Once the will is filed, the court will appoint a personal representative (executor). Ideally, the executor will be named within the will. If there is no will or the named executor is unwilling or unable to serve, the court will appoint a qualified individual. The executor is responsible for administering the estate. 
  • Notification of Interested Parties: Notice matters. The executor of the estate has a duty to provide adequate notice to all interested parties. Among others, the interested parties may include beneficiaries named in the will, any potential heirs in the absence of a will, and known creditors. 
  • Inventory and Appraisal of the Estate’s Assets: An accurate inventory of the estate’s assets must be compiled. You need to know the fair market value of all of the property covered by the estate. In some cases, the executor may need to hire a professional appraiser. A comprehensive inventory is key for managing the estate. 
  • Payment of Estate Debts and Taxes: The estate must pay all valid claims by creditors and settle any outstanding taxes with state and federal authorities. The executor is charged with scrutinizing claims for validity and paying them from the estate’s funds. If the estate lacks sufficient funds to pay all claims, Florida law provides an order of priority for payment
  • Filing Required Probate Documents with the Court: It is important to emphasize that the executor of the estate is responsible for filing various documents with the court throughout the probate process. Some of the most notable required legal documents include things like an inventory of assets, proof of notice to creditors, proof of notice to beneficiaries, and any accounting records. 
  • Distribution of Assets to Beneficiaries: Finally, the last step in the probate process is the settling of the estate. Distribution of assets to the appropriate beneficiaries can only occur when all of the other required steps of probate have been completed. The distribution should align with the terms of the will or, if there is no will, in accordance with Florida’s intestacy laws. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, the executor may need to file a final accounting with the probate court when assets are distributed. 

Contact Our South Florida Probate Attorney Today

At The Law Offices of Odelia Goldberg, our Florida probate lawyer is a skilled, knowledgeable advocate for clients. If you have any questions about probate administration, we are here to help. Contact us today to set up your confidential, no-obligation initial appointment. From our office in Fort Lauderdale, we handle probate matters in Broward County and throughout South Florida. 

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With over 50 years of combined experience, our probate, estate planning, real estate, elder law and asset protection attorneys provide peace of mind for our clients throughout South Florida.

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