Losing a loved one is always a very challenging and emotional time. Grieving family members are dealing with their feelings of loss, and may not initially be thinking about what will happen with their family member’s assets. However, it is essential to stay on top of what is happening with the deceased’s estate. Probate matters are public record. In many cases, family members can use the court’s website to check the status of probate. However, those experiencing difficulties obtaining Florida probate records can reach out to an estate planning lawyer for assistance.
What Is Probate?
Dealing with the stresses that come along with managing a loved one’s estate can be overwhelming, especially for those who have not been through the process before. After someone dies, their assets will eventually get divided up according to the terms of their last will and testament, if they have one.
If the deceased does not have a will, the court will distribute the estate assets according to the Florida intestate laws. These laws are inflexible and do not consider the wishes of the deceased or their family’s circumstances. Thus, most people, who want to exercise control over what happens with their assets upon their death, create a will to ensure that their assets are divided among their loved ones according to their desires.
However, creating a will does not necessarily mean that the estate administration process will be simple. Before a court distributes assets according to the deceased’s will, the will must be probated. Probate is the legal term referring to the process by which the court validates a will.
The Florida probate process begins with the court appointing a personal representative. Often, this person is named in the deceased’s will. The personal representative is responsible for locating and determining the value of the deceased’s assets, paying any outstanding bills, filing and paying any taxes, and distributing the remainder of the estate assets to the beneficiaries named in the will. No probate assets will be distributed by a court until the probate process is complete.
Probate can be complicated if one or more people contest the will. Anyone who may be reasonably expected to be affected by the estate’s administration can file a Jacksonville will contest. Typically, this includes:
- Beneficiaries (anyone who is named as a recipient of property in the deceased person’s will)
- Heirs (family members of the deceased)
- Creditors (anyone to whom the deceased owed money)
For many who recently lost a loved one, the probate process is a foreign one. Indeed, the probate process can be complex, and the assistance of an experienced probate lawyer can be invaluable. However, for those just beginning the process, below is a step-by-step list to find out whether probate was granted.
The first step to finding out if probate has been granted is to determine where the probate estate was filed. This will often be the county where the deceased person lived at the time of their death. However, if the deceased owned significant assets – such as real estate – in another location, the probate estate may have been filed in that county.
Once the correct location is identified, the next step is to find that county’s probate court. In Florida, these courts are referred to as probate courts. However, probate courts may go by different names in other jurisdictions, such as a circuit court, surrogate’s court, or orphan’s court.
Often, probate records are available online. This allows someone to find out the status of a probate proceeding. However, state law does not allow a court clerk to place an image or copy of a court file, record, or paper relating to probate matters online.
If, for whatever reason, probate records are not available online or cannot be accessed online, there are other options to determine the status of a probate estate. A person must either appear in person or send in a written request for probate documents in this situation. Those looking for assistance in checking in on the status of a probate case are encouraged to consult with a trusted probate attorney for assistance.
When the Florida Probate Process Is Not Necessary
In some cases, the probate process is unnecessary. For example, Florida probate law provides for what is called “disposition without administration” if the estate’s final expenses are greater than the value of the property that would go through probate. However, this process can only be used if the deceased person did not own any real estate, and the estate assets are all exempt from creditors’ claims or do not exceed the amount of final expenses.
Smaller estates may qualify for summary administration, which is a shortcut that loved ones may be able to use if the value of estate assets is less than $75,000. In this situation, the court will not appoint a personal representative for the deceased, and will distribute the property to heirs under the terms of the will after determining that the estate qualifies for summary disposition.
Probate Versus Non-Probate Assets in Florida
Not every asset in an estate must go through the probate process. The non-probate property will pass directly and automatically to another person at the time of the owner’s death. For example, in Florida, non-probate assets include the following:
- Bank accounts, investment accounts, and retirement accounts with a named beneficiary;
- Real estate held in joint tenancy;
- Jointly held bank or investment accounts; and
- Assets that are held in a living trust.
For many, taking steps in advance to convert probate assets to non-probate assets can be easily done. This can save loved ones significant time, hassle, and expense. An experienced estate planning lawyer can assist individuals in arranging their assets to minimize their probate property.
Contact a Dedicated Florida Planning Lawyer Today
If you recently lost a loved one or have questions about the Florida probate process, reach out to the knowledgeable attorneys at Beller & Bustamante, P.L. We help our clients deal with the complexities of estate administration. Whether you have questions about how to contest a will in Florida, or what the steps are to get a will probated, we can help. To learn more and schedule a consultation with one of our compassionate guardianship lawyers, call us or contact us through our online form.