Probate estate administration is the legal process used to distribute a person’s estate (i.e. property and possessions) after they die. Although it is essential to administer an estate, it is a complicated and difficult job to undertake. Having an estate and probate attorney to assist you if you are attempting to probate an estate is not just the smart thing to do: in some states, like Florida, the law requires it.
There are a number of rules and procedures that must be followed to administer an estate and many things to do before a decedent’s property can be distributed to his or her heirs. In today’s post, we’ll take a look at just 4 of the tasks that must be accomplished to properly administer an estate.
Before we delve into all that, however, let’s talk about probate a little more.
What if the Decedent Had a Will?
One major source of confusion for most people is the mistaken idea that if the decedent left a valid Last Will and Testament (“Will”), then probate isn’t necessary.
Probate is still required.
Because in order for the decedent’s Will to be effective, and pass ownership of decedent’s property, it must be admitted to probate. It is the probate court that determines whether a Will is valid or not. If the Will is valid, the probate judge will then oversee the distribution process.
If, however, the decedent did not leave a Will (died “intestate”), then the probate process will be more complicated, will take longer, and will involve considerable expense.
Administering the Probate Estate.
Now that we have established that probate will be necessary whether the decedent has a Will in place or not, let’s look at some of the tasks involved in probating an estate.
To make things simple, we will assume (for purposes of this post) that the decedent had a Will and that s/he named a personal representative in that Will. The personal representative (commonly known as an “executor”) is the person (or entity) that is legally responsible for administering decedent’s probate estate.
- Hire an Attorney.
The first thing a Florida personal representative should do is hire an experienced probate lawyer. No matter where you live, however, it is always a good idea for a personal representative to hire counsel and other professionals to assist him/her in administering the estate. If you live in Florida, however, with very few exceptions, hiring probate counsel is required.
In Florida, the probate attorney represents the personal representative — not the beneficiaries —in the probate proceedings. With the assistance of probate counsel, the personal representative can open the probate by filing the necessary papers with the court.
- Gather All Assets.
Once Letters of Administration (“letters”) have issued, the personal representative is responsible for locating all of the decedent’s assets and taking control of them. This means the personal representative must locate and take control of the decedent’s probate assets such as (not limited to):
- Bank and other financial accounts
- Life insurance policies (when no beneficiary is designated)
- Computer passwords
- Keys to the house
- Real estate
- And more.
It is important to understand that not all property owned by a decedent will be a probate asset. Thus, not all of the decedent’s property will pass through probate. Generally speaking, probate assets do not include any property that is disposed of by a trust (Living Trust) or by beneficiary designation. Property that is part of the probate estate is only property that was owned by the decedent in his/her sole name at the time of his/her death, or jointly-owned property without a right of survivorship.
- Give Notice of Administration Proceedings.
The personal representative must provide notice of the proceedings to anyone who may have an interest in them. Essentially, this means that all beneficiaries, heirs, creditors, and potential creditors must be located and given proper notice of the probate proceedings.
- Prepare an Inventory and Accounting.
Skipping over a few steps, (for example, paying debts and taxes) two other main tasks that must be performed to administer an estate include preparing an inventory and preparing a final accounting.
The final accounting must provide details of the estate administration. This includes (is not limited to) providing details regarding:
- All estate assets
- All distributions made
- Costs of probate
- All out-of-pocket expenses
- All fees paid
- All taxes paid
After it is prepared, the final accounting must be served upon interested parties and submitted to the probate court.
Ultimately, the net assets will be distributed to the beneficiaries.
But before an estate can get to that point, there is a lot to do. The steps touched on above are by no means a complete list of what must be done to properly administer an estate. Nor do they address what to do if complications or disputes arise. However, even this simple sketch of the process should make it clear that estate administration is a complicated and difficult process. A Florida estate and probate lawyer can not only guide you through the process, but she can ensure that no steps are missed and that the process goes as smoothly and as quickly as possible.
Protecting Your Family is Just a Phone Call Away.
Don’t leave planning for your future and that of your loved ones to chance. All it takes is one phone call to the Law Offices of Samantha J. Fitzgerald to ensure that your wishes will be followed, and your loved ones taken care of when you are gone. We expertly guide individuals through the complex probate process, and capably handle all aspects of the creation, administration, and settlement of trusts as well. When you work with the estate planning attorneys at the Law Offices of Samantha J. Fitzgerald, you get more than just an estate plan: you get peace of mind. Call us at 954-580-3690 or email us at: [email protected] today.