When starting probate in Florida, these are the first steps to take
Initiating probate in Florida
You’ll need to act quickly to get the process started because Florida requires that the will be filed in court within 10 days of your loved one’s death.
If you fail to do this, you could be sued by beneficiaries or anyone who can claim financial damages from the delay.
If there is no will, however, the 10-day deadline does not apply.
When you petition for probate in Circuit Court you’ll file differently depending on the type of probate you want to pursue: formal administration or summary administration.
Anyone can do formal administration, but to qualify for summary administration the estate’s value must be below $75,000, among other requirements.
Each state has its own set of laws for probate, the legal process under which a person’s assets are distributed to their beneficiaries or heirs. Understanding what makes Florida’s probate laws unique will help you and your family navigate the complicated probate process as smoothly as possible.
In Florida, you can expect probate to take anywhere from one month to 18 months or more from start to finish. The time frame depends on multiple factors, such as: whether there is a valid will, the size and nature of the estate (which will determine the type of administration needed), and whether claims by creditors must be resolved.
It’s always encouraged to consult an experienced probate attorney to help you prepare your documents and make sure you’re on the right track.
Getting started with probate in Florida
The first thing to remember is that Florida requires you to act quickly to initiate probate. Within 10 days of your loved one’s death, you’ll need to file the will in Circuit Court in the county where they lived.
While taking a trip to Circuit Court may be the last thing you want to do as you’re grieving the loss of someone you loved, failing to file the will by the 10-day deadline can have serious consequences.
While it is not a criminal offense, it opens you to litigation by anyone who can claim they were financially damaged by the delay.
Along with the will, you’ll need to submit a petition for administration and an authenticated copy of the death certificate with the local Circuit Court in the county where your loved one had their primary residence (or owned property).
Failing to file the will by the 10-day deadline can have serious consequences.
In Florida, it is common to pay $200-$300 in filing fees, depending on the specific rules of your county, and whether you’re pursuing formal administration (also known as full probate) or summary administration, which is an expedited probate path.
You’ll need to retain an attorney for probate in Florida, in almost all cases, and they should be able to tell you ahead of filing exactly what this cost will be. It is usually less than $500.
Filing for summary vs. formal administration
If the estate is valued above $75,000, there is only one option: formal administration, also known as full probate or formal probate. This is the most common probate route in Florida.
But if your loved one’s estate is valued at $75,000 or less, you may be able to skip full probate and instead pursue the more simplified summary administration. In order for an estate to qualify, there must also be no known creditors. Additionally, regardless of the estate’s value, summary administration may be available if your loved one passed away more than two years ago, since that’s how long creditors have to make any claims against the estate.
For summary administration, when you file the will in Circuit Court, you will also file a Petition for Summary Administration, along with the signed consent of beneficiaries, an inventory of assets, and facts showing why the estate is eligible for summary probate.
Once the court verifies that the estate qualifies, it will issue an order distributing the assets. Typically, this takes one to two months.
If you are pursuing formal administration, once you’ve filed the will in Circuit Court, a judge will issue official letters of administration within one to four weeks.
This legal document appoints a personal representative, based on instructions in the will or the court’s judgment, and gives them authority to settle the estate’s affairs. And the probate process begins.
Calculating the value of the probate estate in Florida
Before you decide whether to pursue summary administration, make sure you understand how estate value is calculated in Florida.
Many important assets do not pass through probate, but rather go straight to their named beneficiaries. Thus, they do not go through probate and are not counted toward the valuation.
Because of these non-probate assets, also known as exemptions, your loved one’s total assets can be worth more than $75,000 but the probate estate can be much smaller.
Exemptions in Florida include: your loved one’s home, up to two vehicles, $20,000 in household furnishings, revocable trusts, jointly owned property, and payable-on-death (POD) and transferable-on-death (TOD) accounts.
A probate lawyer can help you determine if your loved one’s estate can qualify for summary administration or if it will have to go through formal probate.
Another expedited probate option, which is available in very limited circumstances, is to pursue “disposition without administration.” You can take this path, which only involves filing a form with probate court, if your loved one’s assets are worth less than the value of the final expenses.
Initiating probate in Florida when there is no will
If there is no will, then the estate is declared “intestate” and it will follow a different process. There is no deadline for initiating probate for estates with no will, but it is helpful to get the process started sooner than later.
To do so, you’ll go to Circuit Court in your loved one’s county and file a petition for probate. Depending on the type of probate you’re pursuing, the judge may name a personal representative for the estate.
And whether or not there is a will, Florida requires you to hire an attorney for the probate process in almost all cases.
Each case of probate is different, depending on the size and nature of the estate, your personal family dynamics, and of course the court rules in the county you are in.
Especially if you are serving as personal representative, the process can be strenuous, as you are dealing with intricate legal matters as well as difficult emotions. Don’t hesitate to get help from from professionals like appraisers and financial advisers in addition to your lawyer, and be gentle with yourself along the way.
You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.
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