Stuart Probate Process

Grappling with the passing of a loved one presents many personal and legal challenges. Of course, the decedent’s family will need to come to emotional terms with the loss. However, it is also extremely important to remember that property rights and the decedent’s wishes are just as important.

The legal process whereby a court ensures that a decedent’s wishes are respected and properly administered is called probate. A probate court has broad power to interpret wills and other testamentary documents, oversee the actions of personal representatives, and close an estate. Understanding the probate process for Stuart residents is an essential first step toward effective estate planning. To learn more, reach out to an experienced probate lawyer today.

Getting the Probate Court Involved

The probate process for Stuart residents begins when the decedent’s will, if any, is filed with the Clerk of Court. According to Fla. Stat. §732.901, the custodian of the will must deposit the will with the Clerk of Court within 10 days after learning of the decedent’s passing.

Any “interested person” may petition the court to open probate. An interested person is any party who has a stake in the outcome of the probate process. This includes beneficiaries, people who would have had rights to the estate in the absence of the will, and the proposed personal representative of the estate.

Subsequently, the court will appoint a personal representative. The personal representative will likely be someone named in the decedent’s will, if any. If there is no will, then the personal representative may be the surviving spouse or a person chosen by the majority of heirs. According to Fla. Stat. §733.602, the personal representative has a legal duty to carry out the terms of the will for the benefit of the estate.

Validity and Challenges to Wills

Of course, the probate process is not without potential roadblocks. Wills in Florida must meet minimal standards for form. Upon suspicion of fraud or if someone were to feel the need to challenge the will, any interested party may move for the court to examine the validity of the will in more depth. Common reasons to contest a will include:

  • The testator lacked the mental capacity to understand what they were signing
  • A misrepresentation of the testator’s wishes
  • Claims of forgery or fraud
  • A failure to meet Florida’s execution requirements for a will

If the will is valid, the probate court will allow the personal representative to perform their duties in accordance with the terms of the will, subject to the Florida Probate Code.

The Role of the Personal Representative

The personal representative of an estate has the legal duty to carry out the terms of the will and other testamentary documents, e.g. codicils. That same personal representative must also fulfill any fiduciary obligations of the estate such as the payment of debts, the closing of bank accounts, or the sale of the property.

A personal representative must document all estate financial transactions and report those transactions to the court as a part of the probate process. Once the personal representative petitions the court to close the estate, absent waivers from all interested parties, a period of 30 days commence which allows interested parties to file any objections. If the court formally closes the estate, probate ends, and the personal representative’s role terminates.

An Attorney Can Provide More Information About the Stuart Probate Process

The outcome of a formal probate administration can have a big impact on your family’s financial future. While a will may seem like its language is set in stone, any interested party has the chance to challenge the validity of that document.

The probate process for Stuart residents proceeds according to the Florida Probate Code. Formal probate administration opens when a personal representative is appointed by the court. Sometimes, there are disputes about the validity or authenticity of the will.

A personal representative has the duty to fulfill the wishes of the decedent. This includes the settling of debts, the paying of creditors, and the proper distribution of remaining property. Once distribution is complete, the court will close the estate, and probate will end. An attorney can help provide guidance through the probate process for Stuart residents. Contact us today to learn more about probate.