Understanding Probate: An Overview of the Florida Probate System

Let us help you understand probate. Asset gathering, debt settlement, distribution to beneficiaries under the control of probate court.

For many people, Florida probate is an intimidating concept that they need to deal with at one of the worst times in their life, just after a loved one has passed away.  The probate process is set up to identify assets of a person after they have died so that they can be used to pay debts and then be distributed to beneficiaries.  This court-supervised process typically takes 6-12 months to complete, but the process can be delayed if there is no will already in place. In this blog entry, we provide an overview of the process including the role of an executor in estate planning.  Please contact us today if you’d like to learn more!

Determining Assets

One of the most important tasks of the probate process is to identify probate assets. These are assets that the deceased person owned in his or her name only.  This would not include things like joint accounts or properties.  The probate court will need to make a full list of all of these assets before moving forward with settling debts and distributing the assets.

Distributing Assets

Once all the assets are identified, claims must be reviewed and valid claims paid in order of priority, as set forth by Florida law. Claims could include, for example,  taxes due, medical bills, credit cards, mortgages and personal loans.  Finally, once all the valid claims are settled, the Personal Representative must distribute remaining assets to the proper beneficiaries.

Avoiding Florida Probate

There are various ways to partially or completely avoid probate that can be implemented with the advice of a Florida estate planning attorney.  For those who choose to plan without the advice of an attorney, extreme caution should be exercised.  While avoiding probate can save significant money for beneficiaries, if done improperly, the results can be catastrophic.  And there are benefits to allowing some assets to pass through probate.

For example, improper planning for probate can result in the loss of assets to the creditors of beneficiaries.  Improper planning may also lengthen and delay the period of time it takes for beneficiaries to receive their inheritances due to creditor claims statutes.  The role of an executor in estate planning cannot be overemphasized.  That individual will be the key to passing through probate in a timely manner.

One of the best ways to minimize the probate process is to have a revocable living trust in place.  When properly utilized, a revocable living trust enables assets owned in trust to completely bypass probate.

If you have any questions regarding Florida probate, revocable living trusts, or wills, please contact us today.

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