After a loved one’s death, there can be an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness. In spite of these profound emotional impacts, the survivors must deal with the financial aspects of the settlement of the decedent’s estate. Whether the deceased has executed a last will and testament prior to their passing or not, the settlement and distribution of the assets and debts are supervised through the court proceedings of probate administration. Probate court is that segment of the judicial system that determines the value of a decedent’s assets and distributes them fairly to the beneficiaries and creditors. If there is a will, the court determines its validity and proceeds according to the wishes of the deceased. If there is no will, the deceased is said to have died intestate. In this case, the court follows State of Florida intestacy laws to disperse the assets.
Formal administration is the mandated probate administration for an estate that contains more than $75,000 in non-exempt assets, although it can be used for any estate settlement. Formal administration begins when a beneficiary files a Petition for Administration with probate court. If there is a will, the court will review its contents and determine its validity. If there is any question about the validity of the will, witnesses to the signing may provide notarized statements or court testimony for clarification. The court appoints a personal representative and their role is to gather information about the assets and debts of the estate and inventory personal items. To legally obtain information about a decedent’s finances, the personal representative will receive Letters of Administration from the court. This allows them to access bank records, life insurance policies, annuity contracts, retirement accounts, real estate holdings, debtors, creditors and any other financial records. All possible beneficiaries, debtors and creditors receive a Notice of Administration. The personal representative manages the estate in its entirety until the closing of probate.
Summary administration is a simplified process and can only be used to probate small estates that contain less than $75,000 in non-exempt assets or the decedent must have died more than two years from the date of filing. In a summary administration proceeding, a personal representative is not appointed. Though it is generally a quicker administration, it can sometimes be a disadvantage since the petitioner for the probate has no legal authorization to manage the estate and is not able to access information about financial matters related to the estate. Summary administration is often used when an estate contains only a homestead or a small number of estate assets and few beneficiaries. For more complicated estates, formal administrations are preferable.
In Florida you must hire an attorney to file a petition in probate court to open an estate regardless of whether it is a formal administration or summary administration and regardless of whether there is any conflict among the beneficiaries. Finley Law LLC has helped many individuals through the probate process. It is often a long and daunting process and it helps to have experienced attorneys to guide you. At any time during the probate proceeding, disputes can occur between family members or beneficiaries, who feel they have not received their fair share or feel that the will of the deceased is invalid, due to mental incapacity at the time of signing, undue influence, fraud or forgery. If there is a will contest, it can be challenged or resolved with skillful representation from a probate attorney. Finley Law LLC is an experienced law firm that can advise and assist beneficiaries in all matters related to the probate process. Finley Law LLC can help locate assets and beneficiaries, assist with appraisal values of property, settle payment of outstanding debts and determine estate or inheritance taxes that are due on the state or federal level. Finley Law LLC is there to manage all the complex legal matters that can arise in the settlement of an estate, in a kind and compassionate manner. Call the law office for a consultation to discuss strategies and solutions 386-734-5959.