If you have a will, you may already be aware that your estate may have to go through probate. However, many people do not understand what the probate process entails, which can later lead to frustration and disappointment. Understanding the basics of the probate process not only creates realistic expectations, but it also helps you plan more effectively for the future. A Palm Beach County probate attorney can tailor your estate plan to make sure your will is administered as efficiently as possible.
The Purpose of the Probate Process
Understanding the purpose of probate can help you understand how it works. The probate process is designed to do the following:
- Authenticate the deceased person’s will
- Identify and gather the assets of the estate
- Identify the beneficiaries of the estate and distribute the estate assets to them.
- Satisfy to the extent possible any outstanding claims against the estate, such as debts or taxes
The probate court will oversee the administration process to ensure that each of these objectives is met.
Filing the Will With the Probate Court
The first step is to file the will with the Clerk of the Circuit Court in the county where the decedent lived at the time of their death. The custodian of the will must do this within 10 days of learning of the decedent’s death. The Clerk will assign a file number that will be used to identify the case going forward.
Supervision by the Court
In Florida, a Circuit Court judge will be appointed to supervise the subsequent probate proceedings. The judge will decide whether or not the will is valid and will confirm the identities of any heirs and beneficiaries. The judge will also appoint a personal representative, or if one is named in the will, the judge will determine whether the nominated personal representative is qualified to serve.
The Personal Representative
In Florida, the individual tasked with administering the decedent’s estate is referred to as a Personal Representative. There can be more than one Personal Representative serving together at a time. Other states use titles like Executor or Administrator to describe the role we in Florida refer to as Personal Representative. Once appointed by the Court, the personal representative will take the lead on administering the estate. This includes the following steps:
- Identifying and gathering all assets of the estate
- Notifying all creditors and other claimants about the administration of the estate
- Notifying any parties who may object to the administration of the estate
- Paying any costs associated with the probate process
- Paying to the extent possible, debts, taxes, and other claims
- Distributing the assets to beneficiaries and heirs according to the will and Florida law
- Close the estate
Each of these steps is subject to the final approval of the court.
The probate process typically takes between 6 and 12 months, but sometimes it can take longer due to probate disputes. Disputes can arise in a variety of ways, such as:
- Disagreements over the validity of the will
- Claims that the personal representative is not properly administering the estate to the disadvantage of the beneficiaries
- Creditors objecting to how their claims are being handled
Probate disputes can eat up a lot of time and money. Working with a Palm Beach County probate attorney can ensure that your estate is administered as efficiently and quickly as possible.
Contact a Palm Beach County Probate Attorney to Learn More
The probate process is complex and there can be many pitfalls along the way. The Palm Beach County probate attorneys at Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun have been helping people navigate probate for decades. If you have questions about the process, contact us online or call us at 561-626-2101 or toll-free at 800-226-1484. We work with clients throughout the state of Florida.