The Florida Probate Process and How To Avoid It
Probate is one of those topics that is rarely talked about in general conversation. As it involves settling the estate of someone who has passed away, you may not even be aware that there is a specific process for handling such things until you are either directly or indirectly involved with it.
Unfortunately, ignoring or being unaware of the fact that Florida probate proceedings are mandated by law could leave you unprepared in the event of the death of a loved one. In terms of your own eventual passing, not taking steps to avoid probate could end up costing your loved ones significant amounts of both time and money.
Florida Probate Proceedings
Under Florida Court guidelines, probate involves making a complete inventory of all money, property, and assets of someone who has recently passed away, known as the decedent. Once these have been identified and gathered, any outstanding debts owed by the decedent will need to be identified and settled with funds from the estate. Any leftover assets are then distributed to the person’s heirs or beneficiaries. A personal representative, generally named in the person’s will, receives authorization from the Probate Court to handle these matters on the decedent’s behalf.
When there is a legally valid will in place, any remaining assets after settling estate debts are distributed according to the decedent’s wishes. If there is not a will in place, the decedent is referred to as dying intestate. A personal representative will be appointed by the court, and the estate is subject to the rules of intestate succession. Under the Florida Probate rules, this means that the following have the right to inherit from the decedent’s estate:
- If the decedent was married, their spouse would inherit the entire estate;
- If they were married and had children, the spouse would be entitled to half, with the remaining half spread among the children;
- If they were unmarried, with no children, the parents of the decedent would inherit the estate;
- If they were unmarried and their parents are deceased, the estate would be split among their siblings;
- If any of the siblings are deceased, their share of the estate would go to one of their children.
It is important to always have a valid will in place, regardless of the size of your estate or who your intended beneficiaries are. Without a will to guide proceedings, probate can take a much longer period to resolve.
Steps to Avoid Probate
Not all your assets are required to go through probate proceedings. Ways in which you can avoid probate include:
- Designating a beneficiary on life insurance policies;
- Titling property with rights of survivorship;
- Establishing a joint checking account, or naming an account as payable on death;
- Using a revocable or irrevocable trust to transfer ownership of property and assets prior to your death.
For guidance in probate proceedings or for help in creating an estate plan, call or contact Hancock & Associates, P.A. online today. We can arrange a free consultation with our estate planning attorney in our Orlando or Tampa office to answer any of your questions, while advising you on the documents needed to ensure your loved ones are protected.