Probate, also called “estate administration,” is a court process that transfers assets owned by a deceased person to the beneficiaries named in their Will.
In probate, the person who died is referred to as the “decedent.” Anything that the decedent owned when they died is collectively referred to as the “estate.” An estate may contain bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, tools, jewelry, art, guns or any other personal property owned at the time of death.
Probate is required even when a decedent has a valid Will. When someone dies with a Will, a probate judge must “admit the Will” to probate by finding that the will is valid. If the decedent died without a Will, otherwise known as “intestate”, the probate will proceed and assets will be distributed to the next of kin.
In legal terms, “beneficiaries” are people named in a will, and “heirs” are the next of kin who receive property in the absence of a will. Whether a decedent died with or without a will, the court’s main priority is to ensure that the correct beneficiaries/heirs are identified to receive the decedent’s property.
If a decedent had a valid Will, that document nominates who will be the “Personal Representative.” The Personal Representative must be represented by an Attorney and is responsible for overseeing the probate process and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries.
There are two types of probate administration in Florida, formal administration and summary administration. Summary administration is a simpler process, while formal administration is required for certain estates that need the services of a personal representative or are too large for summary administration. The differences between these two types of probate proceedings are outlined for you later in this guide.
When the beneficiaries or heirs of the decedent’s estate are identified and the correct probate documents are submitted to the court, the judge will sign orders allowing the estate assets to be transferred. Prior to property being distributed, the probate judge must be satisfied that all interested parties have received proper notice, that eligible estate creditors have been paid, and that any disputes among the beneficiaries are resolved.
Chapters 731-735 of the Florida Statutes contain the probate laws for our state, however each county in Florida has specific requirements that must be met before the probate court will allow a case to move forward.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way that most probate courts operate, many judges now hold hearings by video conference.
Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.
This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.