When a person passes away in Florida, there are a few ways their estate may be settled.
During the estate administration process, the property and assets of a decedent are identified, collected, and distributed to their rightful beneficiaries.
If the deceased has a Last Will, then the deceased’s assets will be distributed according to the written instructions.
If there is no Last Will, then state law will determine the beneficiaries of the estate.
In all cases, certain steps must be followed during estate administration to ensure estate assets are handled properly.
Although there is no single solution to administering an estate, below are some general guidelines that will be followed during the estate administration process.
Obligations to Estate Creditors
Outstanding taxes and debts must be paid before the assets of an estate are distributed to the beneficiaries of the estate.
During the estate administration process, the estate’s personal representative is responsible for ensuring that the decedent’s debts are paid in a timely manner.
The personal representative must give potential creditors notice of the probate administration.
Thereafter, the creditor has three months to file a claim with the court.
Claimants who have filed a claim must be treated as a person interested in the probate estate until the claim has either been paid or determined to be invalid.
Assets Distributed to Beneficiaries
In Florida, probate assets are those that were solely owned by the decedent, or jointly owned but lacking a provision for automatic succession, known as tenants in common.
During the probate process, after the estate has settled the cost of probate and the decedent’s outstanding debts, assets may be distributed to named beneficiaries, or in the absence of a Last Will to the intestate (statutory) beneficiaries.
Assets that are subject to the court supervised probate process will be gathered by the estate’s personal representative and eventually distributed to the beneficiaries named in a will.
These assets include:
- Bank or investment accounts in the sole name of the decedent
- Life insurance or retirement accounts payable to the decedent’s estate
- Real estate titled in the sole name of the decedent
In Florida, many assets of the deceased person may be distributed to their new owner without being subject to probate court approval.
Non-probate assets include:
- Property jointly held by the decedent and one or more persons either as husband and wife (known as tenants by the entirety) or as joint tenants with rights of survivorship – for example, a house owned by a married couple
- Assets that have a named beneficiary such as a retirement account or life insurance
In some instances, the decedent’s surviving spouse and children may be entitled to receive estate assets even if they were not named in the decedent’s will.
For example, a surviving spouse may be entitled to the homestead property left by the decedent or may be able to claim an “elective share” of the probate estate, which may consist of 30 percent of all the decedent’s assets.
A new spouse or children born after the creation of a Last Will that were unintentionally left out may also be entitled to a share of the estate.
Hiring a skilled Florida estate planning attorney
The cost and time frame of estate administration differs from one estate to another depending on the types of assets and property left behind by a decedent.
Each estate presents its own complexities that must be handled with professional care.
If you have recently suffered a loss in your family or are interested in planning your estate, call the Law Offices of Hoyt & Bryan at (407) 977-8080 or contact us online.
We are ready to advise you on how to best approach your unique estate planning situation.