WHAT IS PROBATE?

Probate is 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. In general, the decedent’s assets are used first to pay the cost of the probate proceeding, then are used to pay the decedent’s outstanding debts, and the remainder is distributed to the decedent’s beneficiaries.

There are two types of probate administration under Florida law: formal administration and summary administration.

There is also a non-court supervised administration proceeding called “Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration.” This type of administration applies only in limited circumstances.

WHAT ARE PROBATE ASSETS?

Probate administration applies only to probate assets. Probate assets are those assets that were owned in the decedent’s sole name at death, or that were owned by the decedent and one or more co-owners and lacked a provision for automatic succession of ownership at death.

WHY IS PROBATE NECESSARY?

Probate is necessary to pass ownership of the decedent’s probate assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries. If the decedent left a valid Will, unless the Will is admitted to probate in the court, it will be ineffective to pass ownership of probate assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries. If the decedent had no Will, probate is necessary to pass ownership of the decedent’s probate assets to those persons who are to receive them under Florida law.

Probate is also necessary to wind up the decedent’s financial affairs. Administration of the decedent’s estate ensures that the decedent’s creditors are paid if certain procedures are correctly followed.

HOW LONG DOES PROBATE TAKE?

It depends on the facts of each situation; some probate administrations take longer than others. For example, the personal representative may need to sell real estate before settling the probate estate, or to resolve a disputed claim filed by a creditor or a lawsuit filed to challenge the validity of the will. Any of these circumstances, if present, would tend to lengthen the process of administration. Even the simplest of probate estates must be open for at least the three-month creditor claim period; it is reasonable to expect that a simple probate estate will take about five or six months to properly handle.

If the estate does not have to file a federal estate tax return, the final accounting and other documents necessary to close the probate estate are first due within 12 months after the court issues Letters of Administration to the personal representative. This period can be extended if necessary.

If the estate is required to file a federal estate tax return, the return is initially due nine months after the date of the decedent’s death; however, the time for filing the return can be extended for another six months. If a federal estate tax return is required, the final accounting and other documents to close the probate administration are due within 12 months from the date the estate tax return, as extended, is due. This date can also be extended if necessary.