Probate is the legal process that administers a decedent’s estate and distributes inheritance to the decedent’s heirs. There are many intricacies to the process, probate laws vary by state, and each individual’s estate is unique. If you’re experiencing the loss of a loved one, we’ll walk you through the essentials of probate in Florida to help you know what to expect.

Probate in Florida: Essential Info

The Florida Bar defines probate as “a court-supervised process for identifying and gathering the assets of a deceased person (decedent), paying the decedent’s debts, and distributing the decedent’s assets to his or her beneficiaries.” Assets that are solely titled to the decedent – and those without beneficiary designations – are subject to probate. They may include:

  • Bank accounts
  • Life insurance
  • Retirement accounts
  • Real estate
  • Vehicles

Of course, there are many elements of an estate that to the bereaved have far more value than the monetary aspects. We know that sentimental items like photo albums, clothing, or artwork are cherished mementos – and that it can be very distressing when there’s ambiguity as to who inherits them. 

If these details are not articulated in the decedent’s will or a personal property memorandum, the personal representative of the estate (often referred to as an executor in other states) is responsible for making these decisions. The personal representative is either nominated by the will or the beneficiaries, and appointed by the court.

And as we mentioned in our recent Probate in the Digital Age blog, there are also many additional steps to consider when administering a loved one’s estate. For example, closing social media accounts, online subscription services, and digital accounts are all a part of the probate process and can help protect against cybersecurity events. 

Probate in Florida: What to Expect

In Florida, the probate process begins quickly. State law declares that the custodian of a will must file the original copy with the clerk of the court within 10 days of being notified of the decedent’s passing. The will must be filed in the county where the decedent lived. In most situations, Florida law also requires that a probate attorney be hired to help the personal representative navigate this process.

If there is no will, an individual is considered to have died intestate. In these scenarios, it will be up to the beneficiaries to nominate someone to serve as the personal representative and manage the estate administration. This responsibility is usually granted to a surviving spouse or adult child, but may also be granted to another relative or a professional like an attorney or CPA. Disagreements on who should serve in this role are often litigated.

Florida has intestate succession laws in place to help determine how the estate will be distributed if there is no will. Before any distribution of inheritance occurs, however, there are many financial and legal tasks that need to be managed. This includes determining and appraising your loved one’s assets, as well as paying their debts and completing their final tax return. 

Many clients want to know how long the probate process will take, but it’s dependent on a host of variables, like the scale of the estate and whether or not the decedent created a will. Even the most organized estates can take several months to complete the probate process, but many estates may take six months to a year or longer – for example, if disputes arise or if the sale of real estate is involved.

You’re not alone in this season. Our team understands the many complexities of probate, and we approach our work with empathy and diligence. We’ll work with you to ensure your loved one’s estate is managed efficiently and their wishes are honored.