When a loved one dies, the last thing that most people want to think about is going to court to deal with their estate. In most cases, probate is required in order to identify the deceased person’s assets, pay their debts, and ultimately distribute their assets to their heirs. In Florida, with a few exceptions, you are required to work with a probate lawyer during this process.
A Florida probate attorney handles a range of tasks related to probate. This may include everything from obtaining property appraisals to paying estate taxes to preparing and filing necessary documents with the probate court. A seasoned lawyer can also help to reduce conflict and make the process as smooth as possible.
The Lopez Law Group represents individuals and families through all aspects of the estate planning process, including probate administration. Our full-service probate law firm is well-equipped to help you through the probate process. Reach out today to schedule a consultation with a member of our team.
What Is Probate?
Probate is the legal process that is used to settle a deceased person (decedent)’s estate. During this court-supervised process, the decedent’s assets and debts are identified, their debts are paid, and their assets are distributed to their beneficiaries.
There are three kinds of probate proceedings in Florida:
- Formal administration, or formal probate, is the standard type of probate. It occurs in the local Circuit Court of the county where the decedent resided at the time of their death. The formal probate process begins when the executor asks the court to be appointed as a personal representative of the estate.
- Summary administration is used whenever the total value of the property or assets that will go through probate is valued at $75,000 or less, or when it involves a death that occurred more than 2 years ago. This process starts by filing a Petition for Summary Administration. It is a faster version of a formal probate.
- Disposition without administration allows the estate to skip the probate hearing in very limited circumstances. This process is only available when the decedent did not leave any real estate, and the total assets available are valued at less than the final expenses after probate.
Most assets go through probate in Florida. In some circumstances, probate can be avoided. This typically occurs when the decedent has a living trust set up so that their assets are not subject to probate. Similarly, if an asset is held in joint tenancy with full survivorship rights – such as a bank account, 401ks, or IRAs – then it will not go through probate.
Probate is a complex, technical process that requires the executor or personal representative to carefully follow numerous steps and keep a careful accounting of assets and debts. In Florida, you are typically required by law to have a probate lawyer. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as for estates that are disposed of without administration (very small estates).
What Does a Florida Probate Lawyer Do?
The role of a Florida probate attorney is incredibly important. As noted above, Florida law requires the use of legal counsel for almost all probate cases. Your probate lawyer will help the executors or administrators of the estate through the process from the initial opening of probate to the final settlement of the estate.
Probate attorneys do a number of tasks as part of this process, including:
- Obtaining appraisals for the decedent’s real property;
- Collecting and managing proceeds from life insurance policies;
- Advising the executor on how to pay or settle bills and debts;
- Identifying and securing estate assets;
- Managing the estate’s checkbook;
- Preparing and filing all documents required by the probate court;
- Determining if any estate or inheritance taxes are due, and making sure those taxes are paid;
- Resolving any outstanding income tax issues;
- Transferring assets in the decedent’s name to the appropriate beneficiaries; and/or
- Making a final disbursement of assets to beneficiaries after all debts have been paid.
There are many issues that may arise during probate. This may include anything from a challenge to the validity of the will to a disputed debt. A skilled probate lawyer can guide you through these and other issues and may be able to help you avoid or reduce family conflict. They can also advise you of your legal obligation to pay the decedent’s outstanding medical, credit card, or other bills.
If a person dies without a will – known as dying intestate – then the probate process is often slightly more complicated. Like other states, Florida has specific rules for inheritance when a person dies intestate. Your Florida probate attorney can advise you on how the rules of intestate succession affect inheritance in your case. They can also file a petition to ask the probate court to determine the true beneficiaries of the estate.
Florida’s probate rules are both complicated and technical. A failure to use the right forms or the correct wording can extend the probate process considerably. Working with skilled legal representation can help to ensure that you avoid needless delays. It can also reduce the stress that is associated with administering an estate after a loved one passes away.
Full-Service Probate Law Firm in St. Petersburg, Florida
Dealing with probate after the death of a loved one can be overwhelming. If you have been named as the executor of the estate, you may be unsure of what your responsibilities are or even how to get started. Our law firm can help. Add link to St. Petersburg Probate Lawyer page with St.Petersburg probate lawyer as anchor text somewhere in the call to action.
The Lopez Law Group is adept at helping individuals and families with both formal and summary probate. We will stand by your side as we guide you through the process. To learn more or to schedule a consultation with our St. Petersburg probate lawyer, give us a call at 727-933-0015 or fill out our online contact form.