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What is probate and how does it work in the state of Florida?

Many Florida residents may well have heard of the probate process and they may also have an idea that it has something to do with wills and estates. But many people may not understand exactly what probate is, and when it applies. One good resource for such questions is the Florida Bar.

Probate is a process by which a deceased person's assets are identified and collected so that they can be legally distributed to the person's heirs. The probate process is supervised by a court, very conveniently called a "probate court." First, a petition for administration must be filed with the clerk of court. If there is a will, that document typically will be filed with the petition. The personal representative will be responsible for gathering the probate assets of the estate so that they may be correctly distributed.

Probate assets are basically those assets that are owned solely by the deceased person or property owned jointly with someone else, but that doesn't have a legal trigger to automatically pass the property to another person outside of the probate process. The most common non-probate asset that a person might own is a life insurance policy. Normally, the insurance policy has a named beneficiary to whom the proceeds of the policy are due. These proceeds will not be subject to probate administration.

The personal representative will be responsible for notifying known creditors about the estate and paying any outstanding debts from the assets that fall within the probate process. Once those debts are satisfied and the costs of the administration are covered, the remaining assets will be distributed either in the way specified in the decedent's will or according to Florida intestacy statutes, if there is no valid will.

The above description, of course, presents only a very general thumbnail sketch of the probate process. If you have specific questions about probate or other aspects of inheritance, you may wish to consider consulting an experienced estate attorney.

Source: The Florida Bar, "WHAT IS PROBATE? ," accessed Sept. 1, 2014

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