In Florida, there are three ways to settle an estate. Here’s an overview of each one, from the simplest and least expensive to the most complicated and costly.
A note about wills: Whether or not probate will be necessary, Florida law requires that anyone who has possession of a will must file it with the local circuit court within 10 days of learning of the death. If a probate court proceeding is necessary, the court will determine whether or not the will is valid.
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- Property held in joint tenancy by more than one person—for example, a house owned by a couple, or a bank account shared by more than one person
- Assets for which the person designated a beneficiary—for example, a POD bank account, a retirement account, or life insurance proceeds
- Assets held in a living trust
It can be used only when:
- the deceased person did not leave any real estate, and
- the only assets are either exempt from creditors’ claims or don’t exceed the amount of final expenses.
To request reimbursement, you file a form called “Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration,” which is available from the clerk of the court and on many Florida circuit courts’ websites. There’s a small filing fee; call ahead or check the court’s website to find out the exact cost.
The document must state how much you’ve spent, and you must document those expenses by submitting itemized bills and receipts for funeral bills and for medical expenses that were incurred during the last 60 days of the deceased person’s life. You must also state exactly which assets (a bank account, for example) you are requesting payment from. A certified copy of the death certificate must accompany the request. If there’s a will, it must also be filed with the local circuit court.
- the death occurred more than two years ago, OR
- the value of the probate estate—that’s all the property that would have to go through probate, so it excludes the nonprobate assets described above—is not more than $75,000.
To start this process, the person who was nominated in the will to be executor, or anyone who inherits property, files a document called a Petition for Summary Administration. The surviving spouse, if any, must sign and verify the petition. If any beneficiary doesn’t sign the petition, you must formally deliver (serve) that person with notice that you have filed the petition. (Fla. Stat. 735.201.)
In the petition, you state that the estate qualifies for summary administration, list the deceased person’s assets and their value, and state who inherits which assets.
The court doesn’t appoint a personal representative (executor or administrator) for the estate. Instead, the court, if it determines that the estate qualifies for summary administration, issues an order, releasing the property to the people who inherit it. You might use this court order to show a bank, for example, that you are the rightful inheritor of the funds in an account it holds.
The court issues a document called Letters of Administration, which gives the personal representative authority to settle the estate. If there’s a will, it must be filed with the court and proven valid. This may be done by having the witnesses to the will give statements, under oath, about its validity. Or, if the will is “self-proving,” it’s enough to submit the document itself. Under Florida law, a will is self-proving if the witnesses, when they watched the will-maker sign the will, signed a statement in front of a notary public. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 733.201.)
Under the court’s supervision, the personal representative gathers and inventories assets, pays debts and taxes, and (eventually) distributes what’s left to the people who inherit it. The personal representative must submit a final accounting to the court, showing what the estate contained, how the assets have been managed, and the plan for distributing them to beneficiaries. Anyone who objects to the accounting can object in court.
After everything has been distributed, the personal representative files evidence (receipts) with the court, and asks that the estate be closed. The court issues an order closing the estate and relieving the personal representative of further responsibilities. Typically, the whole process takes six months to a year.
Motsinger Law & Mediation is here to guide you through the probate process, call us for a free consultation.
For more about formal probate, see the Florida Bar Association’s pamphlet on probate.