PROBATE PORTAL: Probate questions answered

When a person passes away, everything they own in their own name (excluding any assets that pass via beneficiary designation) becomes part of a legal entity called an estate. The estate is required to pay the deceased’s final bills and distribute their property to the deceased’s heirs through a process called probate.  The probate timeline can vary from weeks to years.

If your relative recently passed away in Martin County and you need help administering their estate, an experienced attorney may be able to help you through the probate process. Contact a Palm City probate lawyer today to learn more.

Understanding the Probate Process and time line

Probate allows ownership and title of a deceased person’s assets to pass to the beneficiaries or heirs. While many people think that this is the function of a will, a person’s will is actually not effective unless it is admitted to a Florida probate court. If the deceased did not have a will, the estate will likely have to be administered in probate court.

Probate in Martin County is supervised by a judge who ensures that all of the deceased’s taxes, debts, and creditors are paid before anyone else receives property from the estate. Additional costs like funeral expenses, personal representative fees and probate attorney fees may also be deducted from the estate.

If the deceased had a will, that document likely named a personal representative—also known as an executor—who is charged with compiling the probate assets, paying bills, and distributing property. If the person died intestate—meaning without a will—or otherwise failed to name an executor, the probate judge will appoint someone (often one of the deceased’s heirs) to act in that capacity.

The Personal Representative (Executor) Role in a Probate Case

Probate begins when the personal representative files a petition for administration with the probate court and legally accepts the role of executor. The judge then enters an order admitting the will to the probate court. In turn, the court issues letters of administration to the executor, who can then use those documents to open a bank account in the name of the estate.

The personal representative must notify everyone who is a beneficiary of the estate and stands to inherit from the deceased, as well as the deceased’s creditors. The creditors must file their claim with the probate court within three months of the notice, and the executor must pay any undisputed claims. If necessary, the executor has the authority to liquidate the deceased’s accounts and sell property in order to pay the estate’s debts.

The personal representative must also be sure to prepare a final tax return and create an accounting of all estate assets, expenditures, and probate costs. Once the debts are paid, any remaining assets may then be distributed to the deceased’s beneficiaries or heirs. A probate attorney in Palm City can help potential clients with estate planning and the administration process.

Probate Litigation and Challenges

Putting an estate through probate may be relatively simple or could require complex litigation. Estates worth less than $75,000 may qualify for summary administration, which is a shortened version of probate that may only take a few weeks. Estates that do not qualify for summary administration may take much longer, especially if someone challenges a will or a beneficiary’s share of the estate assets.

Contentions of a will must be asserted while the probate case is still ongoing. In Martin County, a person may generally contest a will on the grounds that the document is technically invalid, that the testator lacked the mental capacity to create the will, or that it was procured through undue influence, duress, or fraud.

Adversary proceedings in a probate case are more common when a deceased party owned a business or a large amount of property. Business partners, beneficiaries, and relatives may all believe that they should receive a share of the assets, and litigation may be necessary to sort out each person’s claims. The assistance of the Palm City probate lawyer can be key to doing this efficiently.

Speak with a Palm City Probate Attorney Today

Administering an estate on your own could be complicated and time-consuming. If you are named someone’s personal representative, Florida law likely requires you to be represented by a probate attorney unless the estate is small. Get the help you may need to manage the estate of your loved one by contacting a Palm City probate lawyer today.