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!