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What is 'exempt property' in Florida estate administration?

This blog has discussed previously the concept of 'elective shares' and how they can be waived during an estate administration in Florida. To refresh, the 'elective share' is that portion of the estate that a spouse (and sometimes child) may take instead of what was left to him or her in the decedent's last will and testament. A related concept that we touched on but did not expound upon is that of 'exempt property.'

According to Florida Statute 732.402, a surviving spouse (or children, if there is no surviving spouse) of a deceased person whose legal domicile was in Florida at the time of death, has a right to certain 'exempt property.' This property includes motor vehicles, up to two in number, that do not weigh more than 15,000 pounds and were titled to the decedent and commonly used by the immediate family as personal vehicles. Also exempt is any furniture or appliances in the household where the decedent lived, up to a net value of $20,000 as of the day the decedent died. Finally, certain qualified tuition program deposits or agreements such as those in the Florida Prepaid College Trust Fund, will be considered exempt. There is also an exemption for rare cases where death benefits are paid out by the state to teachers or administrators killed during the course of their duties.

But what does being 'exempt' mean in this context? Basically, such property is going to be considered unreachable by claims made against the estate in most circumstances, the exception being perfected security claims. This exempt property is in addition to any other devises made to the beneficiaries in the will, as well as homestead and other statutory entitlements. However, if the decedent specifically devised the property in his or her will, it will not be included in the exempt property unless the devisee would otherwise be entitled to it as exempt property and he or she files a Petition to Determine Exempt Property by the later of either four months from the service of the Notice of Administration for the Estate or 40 days after the termination of a proceeding pertaining to the estate.

As the above shows, there are often many complex factors to be taken into account when administering an estate. Those who have questions regarding the process may wish to seek out an experienced Florida estate planning attorney.

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