Disputes over a deceased person’s will or estate are something many people only hear about in a sensationalized way via a headline or Hollywood. However, probate litigation is a very real legal proceeding that can happen to anyone’s estate. As you consider how to set up your estate planning documents and communicate your wishes, understanding probate litigation in Florida is just one way we are there for our clients.
What is Probate Litigation?
For most persons, a probate court will utilize probate process law to identify a deceased person’s assets, pay any outstanding debts, and distribute the estate to the beneficiaries as designated. However, occasionally, an entity may challenge the existing will, estate documents, how assets are distributed, or succession rules. This type of legal process is categorized as probate litigation.
Types of Estate Disputes
Losing a loved one is hard enough without the challenges that can come with probate and especially probate litigation. However, if there is a lack of trust between family members, communication issues, or questions about documentation, a dispute is more likely on one of the following grounds:
- Undue influence or manipulation that pressured the decedent to draft or revise their will for someone’s personal benefit
- Fraud by which someone misled the decedent to sign an unfair will
- Signing of a will by the decedent when they were not of sound mental capacity
- Disagreement over the validity or the court’s interpretation of a will
- Legal right to inheritance who was left off of a will (i.e. spouse electing for their elective share)
- Disputing creditors’ claims to estate assets
How Are Disputes Over an Estate Resolved?
In the event that an estate dispute has taken place and probate litigation is in process, it is typically addressed and eventually resolved through some or all of the following:
- Negotiations: Private, attorney-led discussions designed to represent each client’s best interest with the goal of attaining an amicable solution for both parties.
- Mediation: If negotiations are ineffective, a structured mediation process with a neutral third party may help the family reach a mutually agreed upon resolution.
- Settlement: This is the agreed-upon resolution by both parties from which they agree to move forward.
- Hearing or Trial: If the parties cannot agree after negotiations, the probate litigation may move forward to a hearing or trial. This time and cost-intensive process that involves the presentation of documents, evidence, and possibly even witnesses depending on the intensity.
- Arbitration: Similar to mediation in that a neutral third party is involved, however, both parties preemptively agree to accept the arbitrator’s decision.
Many Probate Disputes Can Be Avoided
It is clear that probate litigation can be a draining process for your emotions, your time, and your pocketbook. Thankfully, many probate disputes can be avoided through clear communication with your family and expert legal advice to help you draw up sound legal documents that will clearly state your wishes for your estate and beneficiaries. To discuss your will, trust, or estate documentation needs, contact our experienced attorneys in Florida at The Law Office of Amy B. Van Fossen, P.A
Probate is a word you hear often when it comes to estate planning, wills, trusts, etc., but you may not be fully aware of what it means. If you wonder about how probate matters work in Florida and what probate court is, read on for important information from our experienced attorneys below.
What Is Probate?
Probate refers to the legal process when a chosen personal representative assists in the gathering of assets, managing unpaid debts, and the distribution of assets to proper beneficiaries on behalf of a deceased person. This can be a complicated process that takes many months, sometimes over a year.
The probate court is the arm of the judicial system that oversees this process, helping to ensure that wills and trusts are followed as the deceased intended. They enforce the payment of the aforementioned outstanding debts and asset distribution and are the “stamp of approval” for all actions taken by the executor. Additionally, should there be any question or contesting of the will or trust, or if no will or trust exists, the probate court rules in that matter.
What Goes Through Probate?
In Florida, we have what is known as the “Florida Probate Code.” This provides certain protections for the decedent’s family, particularly for a surviving spouse and any minor children. The two terms associated with this code are “exempt property” and “family allowance” with the primary goal being to provide immediate assets to the beneficiaries for their needs rather than having to wait for a creditor claims period to expire.
- Exempt Property: This protection keeps designated estate property at death from going to creditors so that beneficiaries can use (or keep using) them. This may include appliances and furniture in the household as well as two vehicles. It also includes any Section 529 tuition money and death benefits for members of the school system.
- Family Allowance: Because the administrative process around the probate court can be lengthy, this money comes out of the estate and is given immediately to the survivors for support during that time.
Additionally, if you elect to engage in a more thorough estate plan, you may be able to protect other assets from probate including retirement accounts, property in a trust, and joint bank accounts or joint personal property. For more on what may be exempt from probate in Florida, click here.
The Probate Court Process
Probate proceedings begin when a deceased person’s executor or family member petitions for probate with (or without) a will and a copy of the death certificate. During the initial steps, the executor is formally appointed and given Letters of Administration (or Letters of Testamentary) which gives them the authority to pay debts and distribute or sell assets, among other tasks. The final steps will establish that the estate is properly settled and close out the estate.
Some amount of involvement with the probate process is involved in many estates; however, you can significantly reduce the complication, length, and cost of probate by planning ahead. To discuss your estate planning and probate needs, contact our experienced attorneys today!
Losing a loved one is a difficult experience and yet, in the midst of that challenge, many face legal and procedural issues related to the deceased person’s estate. One of the most challenging of these issues is navigating the probate process. Therefore, in order to make probate proceedings as smooth as possible and retain maximum assets to distribute to beneficiaries it is important to answer the question, “What assets are exempt from probate in Florida?”
What is Probate?
Before we identify assets that are exempt from probate in Florida, it is important to identify what probate is. When someone passes away, a court-supervised process begins to validate and authenticate the decedent’s will and then work with the deceased person’s personal representative to gather assets, pay creditors, and distribute the remaining estate to the beneficiaries. Thankfully, for the purposes of our discussion today, there are certain assets exempt from this probate process, which protects them for the beneficiaries.
What Assets May Be Exempt From Probate in Florida?
Florida’s probate process, which is outlined in the “Florida Probate Code”, has some protections in place for the decedent’s family. These protections are specifically in place for a surviving spouse and any children and are known as “exempt property” and “family allowance.” The overarching goal of these protections is to provide assets to beneficiaries immediately for their relief and support instead of needing to wait for the creditor claims period to pass before they can access them.
- Exempt Property: This property cannot be transferred to creditors and can be given to the beneficiaries much more quickly than that which is subject to the probate process. This type of property includes household furniture and appliances in the decedent’s home up to $20,000 in value as well as two personal motor vehicles. Additional financial exemptions may include any Section 529 tuition monies as well as death benefits for teachers and school administrators.
- Family Allowance: This money comes out of the estate upon time of death for the purpose of supporting the survivor’s needs during the administrative process.
Additional Options for Exempting Assets from Probate in Florida
In addition to the more typical exemptions listed above, Florida also has some legal tools in place that can help you form a strategy to protect other assets from probate. This more thorough estate planning may include retirement accounts, property that is in a trust, and bank accounts or real property under joint ownership. Florida also includes provisions for “payable-on-death-accounts,” where the decedent named a recipient to receive the funds upon the account holder’s death.
Our Experienced Probate Attorneys Can Help
While losing a loved one can be difficult, the additional legal and procedural challenges around the loss can be eased if you are familiar with and have planned for a smooth and optimized probate process. In order to best protect your assets for your beneficiaries, contact one of our knowledgeable probate attorneys to discuss your specific, valuable, and important situation today.
When dealing with end-of-life legal issues you may hear the word, “probate.” In this post, we will define probate, share examples of the probate process, and provide contact information to hire a probate attorney in Florida. In addition, we will address the question, “What expenses should I expect when hiring a probate lawyer?” This is an important question and this information can help you and your family get through a difficult time more smoothly.
What is Probate?
The court-supervised probate process is followed in nearly all cases for a deceased person in Florida. In a typical probate proceeding, a personal representative (sometimes referred to as an executor or executrix) gathers assets, pays debts, and distributes assets and property to beneficiaries. This can take months to years, especially for complex estates.
End-of-life legal issues can be complicated so a knowledgeable probate attorney is a valuable asset. They are experts at preparing and filing court documents, inventorying personal property, estate assets, and debts, distributing assets according to your wishes, and navigating complicated issues around a deceased person’s estate.
Common Florida Probate Expenses
Now that we’ve highlighted the importance of having a qualified probate attorney, you may be wondering about the costs of probate. Probate fees can vary, but there are some expenses you can expect:
- Fees to pay your attorney (further explanation below)
- Filing fees for the court and paperwork
- Accounting, land survey, and appraisal fees
- Reasonable compensation for executors or trustees
- Executor/probate bonds required by some Florida county courts
These are the types of probate costs that need to be paid for the probate proceeding to move forward. Your probate attorney will help you understand which probate costs you are responsible for, as well as gather and distribute them on your behalf. People with attorneys have an advantage when dealing with these common fees and processes.
How Much Will My Attorney Cost in Florida?
Florida’s status as a “reasonable compensation state” may make your attorney fees the top expense in the probate process. Rather than an hourly rate, the state has a statutory fee schedule based on the value of an estate that is commonly used. However, this is not required and fees can be determined in different ways in your representation agreement. When using the statutory fee schedule, if an estate is valued at $200,000, the attorney fees will be higher than if the estate is valued at $90,000, and lower than if the estate is valued at $1.5 million. These costs highlight the importance of consulting with an attorney about estate planning to protect your assets as much as possible.
Remember, probate is an important and necessary court process for many estates. It is important to have legal counsel that is an expert in the law and has the compassion needed for these delicate moments. Our attorneys are ready to help you navigate this process along with many other legal services, and we also have a blog where you may find answers to other important questions. Please don’t hesitate to give us at the Law Office of Amy B. Van Fossen a call today for all your probate estate needs!