Many Floridians are under the impression that as long as they leave behind a will, they can keep their estate from going through probate. Though a will can certainly make it easier to administer a person’s estate, it does not eliminate the intervention of probate court. Anyone who owns certain assets at the time of their death and fails to use other estate planning documents such as revocable trusts to circumvent probate may leave their loved ones to deal with the process of probate administration.
It is important to understand that the probate process is not the same for every estate. Florida has two types of probate: summary and formal. The most common type of proceeding is formal administration. Here is a brief overview of the formal probate administration process.
File a petition to establish and open the estate
Before any assets can transfer from a deceased person’s estate, a relative or individual with a valid claim to it (portion or entirety) must file a petition with probate court to open it. The court will then choose a personal representative to oversee the administration process.
Validate the will and any disputes
If the deceased left a will, the estate’s representative must provide it to the courts for validation. Upon validation, the executor or estate’s representative can start to settle the estate according to the testator’s instructions in the will after inventorying and valuing all assets, paying off debts and satisfying all outstanding estate obligations. Depending on the size and value of the estate and outstanding obligations, some beneficiaries may not receive their full inheritances. If the deceased did not designate beneficiaries, probate will disperse the remaining assets according to its intestate law.
Keep in mind that anyone (potential heir or beneficiary) who feels he or she has the right to dispute the will can file a claim during the validation process. The most common reasons for estate disputes include undue influence, fraud, breach of duties and disinheritance. Disputes can significantly impact the length of time it takes to finalize an estate because they challenge the document’s authenticity, and probate court must decide if any alleged disputes have merit and follow due process to resolve them.