Not all estates for purposes of probate are large. And yet even small estates must go through probate in order to distribute a decedent’s assets (however small) to his or her heirs. As a result, we are often asked whether Florida has a small estate affidavit.
What is a small estate affidavit, you ask?
Simply put, a small estate affidavit is a sworn written statement submitted to the court that allows probate of a small estate to proceed quickly and without the cost of conducting a formal administration.
So, does Florida have a small estate affidavit?
The short answer is “no.”
Just because Florida does not have a small estate affidavit, that does not mean that Florida does not have procedures for handling small estates.
Read on to find out how small estates in Florida are handled without a small estate affidavit.
How Small is Small in Florida?
As noted above, every state has its own definition of what constitutes a “small estate.”
Florida has two different definitions for what constitutes a small estate.
- an estate with probate assets of $75,000 or less, or
- an estate with probate assets valued at less than the cost of funeral expenses and decedent’s last medical bills.
Small Estate laws were enacted to provide a means of allowing the heirs of a small estate to receive the decedent’s property in a less costly and time efficient manner. This makes sense as probate is generally very time-consuming and can be expensive.
Conducting a formal probate for a small estate could completely deplete the estate’s assets— leaving nothing for the heirs to inherit. Provided certain conditions are met, small estate laws allow estates with few assets to be administered with less time and cost.
What are the Small Estate Probate Procedures in Florida?
Depending on the value of the net assets in the estate, Florida has 2 procedures that can be followed for a small estate. These are:
- Summary administration, and
- Disposition without administration.
Summary administration is used if the value of the estate is $75,000 or less, or the decedent has been dead for more than 2 years.
Summary administration is generally a more streamlined and less expensive procedure than formal administration. It can be conducted without an attorney. Although a summary administration can be conducted without a probate attorney, that does not mean that it’s a good idea to handle an estate administration on your own. Just because the assets may not be more than $75,000, that does not mean that administering the estate will be easy or without pitfalls. It is always a good idea to have an experienced probate lawyer help you.
The other procedure available for small estates is known as “disposition without administration.” Technically speaking, a disposition without administration isn’t really probate administration. Instead, it is a procedure that allows an interested party to file a letter or affidavit with the court petitioning the court to transfer (i.e., pay him) decedent’s assets to the heirs. If the court is satisfied, it will issue an order transferring decedent’s assets to his/her heirs.
Disposition without administration can only be used if the decedent’s estate consists of statutorily exempt property, or property that is exempt from creditor’s claims under the Florida Constitution, or where the probate assets are less than the reasonable cost of decedent’s final expenses. In other words, the assets are less than the costs of decedent’s funeral expenses and medical or end-of-life costs.
Do You Need an Attorney for Small Estate Administration?
As touched on above, to conduct a summary administration or disposition without administration, the law does not require you to have a probate attorney.
But just because you can, that doesn’t always mean that you should.
When it comes to probate law, it is always a good idea to have an experienced probate lawyer to help you and guide you through the process.
The fact that the estate may be small does not mean that you should not hire a probate lawyer to assist you. The value of having a probate attorney to help you through the process is invaluable. These procedures are still court procedures. They still require legal knowledge and experience.
With that assistance, the procedures will work as intended—quickly and inexpensively. Without out it —probably not.
Small Estate Probate Lawyer in Florida
At SJF Law Group, we expertly guide individuals through the complex probate process, and capably handle all aspects of the creation, administration, and settlement of estates and trusts. We work hard to ensure that your wishes will be followed, and your loved ones taken care of when you are gone. When you work with the estate planning attorneys at SJF Law Group, you get more than just an estate plan: you get peace of mind. Contact us here or email us at: [email protected].