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When a loved one dies, your immediate focus is on your grief and other emotions that often arise. In the coming weeks and months, however, you may realize that there are many legal issues that come up after someone passes away. In Florida, this includes probate, the legal process by which a deceased person’s estate assets are distributed to their heirs.

Probate can be challenging for anyone, but it can be tough when you are dealing with grief. A seasoned St. Petersburg probate lawyer near you can guide you through each step, from confirming a last will and testament to resolving creditor claims to notifying any heirs. Throughout probate, your attorney will work to protect your best interests in probate court and ensure that the decedent’s last wishes are carried out after their death.

At the Lopez Law Group, we are skilled in all phases of the probate process and work with families to make it as simple as possible. Call our law firm to learn more or to schedule a consultation with a St. Petersburg estate planning attorney.

What Is Probate?

Probate is the specific process in Florida law for handling a person’s assets and debts after their death. Probate is supervised by the court, typically in the county where the decedent lived at their death. In St. Petersburg, probate proceedings are started at the Pinellas County circuit court.

Probate is required for almost every estate in Florida, regardless of whether the deceased person had a will or died without a will (intestate). The probate process ensures that the decedent’s creditors are paid, that all assets are properly gathered, and that the assets are properly distributed to the beneficiaries of their estate. In limited circumstances, an estate may go through a non-court supervised proceeding known as “Disposition of Personal Property without Administration.”

Probate assets may include:

  • Real estate that is titled solely in the name of the decedent or in the name of the decedent and another person as tenants in common;
  • A bank or investment account in the sole name of the decedent;
  • A life insurance policy, annuity contract, or individual retirement account that is payable to the decedent’s estate.

There may be other types of assets that are included in probate. A St. Petersburg probate attorney can advise you of which assets must be probated, and the proper procedure for doing so.

St. Petersburg Probate Lawyers near meFlorida Probate Laws

Under Florida’s Probate Code, there are two types of probate administration: formal administration and summary administration. Formal administration is the most common type of probate. There are limited circumstances under which summary administration can be used, as described below.

Formal administration begins with filing a petition with the clerk of court to open the decedent’s estate. A personal representative – who is usually a family member – is then appointed to administer the estate. The personal representative’s role includes collecting and distributing the decedent’s assets, settling debts, and paying any final bills and/or taxes. A personal representative must be appointed by a judge during formal administration; it is not enough if the decedent’s estate plan names a representative.

There are strict rules and regulations that govern personal representatives and for good reason. A personal representative is taking on a huge responsibility and is entrusted with the estate’s assets. In many cases, the personal representative is required to either post a bond or place the estate’s assets into a restricted depository account from which the assets can only be withdrawn pursuant to court order.

Formal administration is usually required when an estate’s value exceeds $75,000, when an estate has multiple creditors, and/or when the individual has been deceased for less than two years. In addition, estates with more complex legal issues – such as mortgage negotiations, potential litigation, or contract issues – typically require formal administration.

When an estate goes through formal administration, an attorney must file a formal probate petition. A St. Petersburg probate lawyer will represent the personal representative in probate proceedings before the court. Having skilled legal representation can give a family peace of mind in knowing that the probate process is being handled appropriately and in accordance with Florida law.

Summary administration is an expedited form of probate. It typically can only be used in two situations (1) where the value of the probate estate is less than $75,000; and/or (2) where the decedent has been dead for more than two years. It is considered the best option when the estate has no creditors or when the decedent only has assets that are exempt from probate.

Unlike a formal administration, a personal representative is not appointed in summary administration. However, a petition is drawn up and filed with the court after being signed by a surviving spouse and any other beneficiaries. Florida’s Probate Rules set out specific guidelines for what a petition to begin summary administration must contain.

Summary administration is a much faster and less complicated process than formal administration. Nevertheless, an attorney is required to open an estate for summary probation. A St. Petersburg probate lawyer can advise you about the best option for probating an estate based on the decedent’s estate planning documents (if any) and assets.

Finally, ancillary administration may be necessary when a decedent was living outside of Florida at the time of their death. This situation is fairly common in Florida, where people often own a second home or another real estate. An ancillary administration can occur simultaneously with probate in the deceased person’s home state. 

As with other types of probate, ancillary administration requires a lawyer. An attorney will file the necessary paperwork with the circuit court, and work with the personal representative to distribute the Florida assets once the probate has concluded.

How an Experienced Probate Attorney Can Help

Probate can be expensive, particularly when an estate must go through formal administration or ancillary administration in addition to probate in another state. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you put together an estate plan that minimizes these costs when possible. Setting up a revocable living trust, an irrevocable living trust, a special needs trust, or a land trust may allow you to minimize the expenses involved in probate.

When an estate must be probated, Florida probate law requires that the estate have a licensed attorney. A skilled St. Petersburg probate attorney can review your case and answer all questions related to probate law. At the same time, they will advise you on the best way to proceed with probate based on your specific situation.

They can also help you complete all required paperwork, including the petition to open an estate that is required to begin the probate process. Once probate has started, your lawyer will assist the personal representative in gathering documents, records, and other required information. They will also work to protect the best interests of the estate throughout the process.

A probate attorney can guide a personal representative through probate, ensuring that they fulfill their fiduciary duty to the estate and its beneficiaries. They will represent you in court and help you understand the often confusing probate process so that you can fulfill your loved one’s wishes.

My Family Member Died without a Will. Does Their Estate Have to Go Through Probate?

It depends. If a person dies intestate – without a will – then their assets will be distributed according to Florida’s intestate succession laws. Whether probate is necessary depends on what type of assets the decedent had at the time of their death. Some assets are exempt from probate, while others require probate in order to pass ownership to heirs.

Determining whether probate is necessary under Florida law – and who inherits what if there is no will – can be complicated. Reach out to the Lopez Law Group to talk to a St. Petersburg probate attorney about your case.

What Assets Are Exempt from Probate?

In Florida, some assets are exempt from probate. This means that you do not need to go through the probate process in order to distribute them. Exempt assets include:

  • Home furnishings in the main residence (up to $20,000);
  • Two motor vehicles titled in the decedent’s name;
  • 529 college savings accounts;
  • Some educator death benefits;
  • Revocable trusts;
  • Assets with designated beneficiaries;
  • Assets that are set to transfer upon death;
  • Real estate and bank accounts that are titled as joint title with right of survivorship;
  • Real estate held in a tenancy by the entireties; and
  • The primary residence, or homestead.

If you have questions about whether a certain asset is exempt from probate – or how to set up your estate to avoid probate – the Lopez Law Group can help. Give our law firm a call today to set up a consultation with a St. Petersburg probate lawyer.

How Long Does Probate Take in Florida?

The amount of time that it takes to probate an estate depends on two main factors: the type of probate (formal versus summary administration) and the assets involved. Formal administration can take anywhere from a few months to several years to complete. By contrast, summary administration typically takes one to three months.

The time that it takes to probate an estate is also affected by the assets involved, and whether there is any challenge to the validity of the will. For example, if the personal representative must sell real estate or resolve a lawsuit to settle the estate, it will take much longer than an estate where the assets can simply be distributed. Contact the Lopez Law Group to learn more from a St. Petersburg probate attorney.

How Our Law Firm Can Help

The probate process can be difficult for anyone, particularly when you are already dealing with the grief of losing a loved one. Our law office will stand by your side throughout the estate administration process, helping you gather and distribute estate assets and pay creditors in accordance with Florida law.

The Lopez Law Group offers a range of services relating to estate planning, estate taxes, probate, estate-related litigation matters, and trust administration. We will stand by your side throughout the process. To learn more or to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team, call our law firm at 727-933-0015 or fill out our online contact form.

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Mr. Lopez was a Godsend and really helped me with my situation. Him and the entire firm were very diligent and helped speed the early stages of the process along due to a pressing situation. Throughout my experience working with the firm, they were always responsive and available any time I had a question or wanted to check on the state of affairs. Hopefully I won’t have to recommend Lopez Law Group to my friends or family, but if those unfortunate circumstances arise then there’s only one name I would trust. Thank you again for all your help!

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Lopez Law Group

700 7th Ave N, Suite A,
St. Petersburg, FL 33701

P: 727-933-0015

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