If you have never been through the probate process before, it is helpful to have an idea of how the process works and what you can expect as it moves along. But keep in mind that the actual process can vary significantly depending on the estate and the assets being probated and that the steps below are only meant to serve as a general overview of the probate process.
Specific questions or concerns about probate should be discussed with a Business Trial Group attorney.
Step 1: Personal Representative Meets With Florida Probate Administration Attorney The person nominated in the decedent’s will to serve in the role of personal representative for the estate has an initial conference with the probate lawyer. At this time, documents needed for probate administration —such as the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, real estate deeds, financial statements, life insurance policies, and evidence of debts owed—are gathered and prepared to file.
Step 2: File Documents With the Florida Probate Court Probate officially begins when the personal representative files documents with the probate court, including a petition for administration, acceptance as personal representative, and an order admitting the will to probate.
Step 3: Notify Beneficiaries When probate documents are filed, the personal representative must notify the decedent’s surviving spouse, beneficiaries, the trustee and beneficiaries of any estate trust, and other persons entitled to inherit property that probate is underway.
Step 4: Receive Administration Letters from Court and Open Estate Account The Florida probate court must issue letters of administration before probate can proceed further. Once the letters are issued, the representative can take the documents to a bank and open an estate account. The estate account serves as a depository for estate assets that are subject to probate.
Step 5: Issue Notice to Creditors Notice to estate creditors are filed, alerting them that a probate proceeding has been opened. During this stage, creditors may file claims with the probate court. The Florida estate administrator can pay the claims or dispute them.
Step 6: Place Proceeds in the Estate Account All assets and accounts that were solely in the decedent’s name may be liquidated and property sold. The proceeds are distributed to the estate account.
Step 7: Pay Final Estate Taxes As part of settling the decedent’s estate, the personal representative must prepare a final income tax return, and deal with other applicable taxes, such as an estate tax.
Step 8: Final Estate Accounting A final accounting of the estate is made and distributed to each beneficiary. The accounting details the estate assets, any distributions made, and probate costs, which may include a fee paid to the personal representative. As a fiduciary, the representative must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries. The representative’s failure to uphold their fiduciary duty could lead to a lawsuit.
Step 9: Distribute Assets A plan for asset distribution is prepared for the beneficiaries to agree upon. When all the beneficiaries agree to the plan, assets are distributed according to the decedent’s will.
Step 10: Discharge the Estate The Florida probate court officially discharges the personal representative and closes the estate proceeding. Probate is concluded.