As experienced estate attorneys, we at Doane & Doane, PA., love to answer questions from our clients. Lots of times, as you can see in our weekly blog we handle some fundamental questions like whether a will can be witnessed by one of the will’s beneficiaries, to the more esoteric like what is a “grantor retained unitrust?”
We do understand that sometimes it is important to make sure that some of the basic, bread-and-butter Florida estate law questions are answered so that you (our client or potential client) can have a better framework for what type of estate planning might be best for you.
Accordingly, in this article, we are going back to some basics, and share with you a list of frequently asked questions from our clients that we think are worth sharing with everyone. If, after reading this article, you have more Florida estate law questions, then we welcome you to contact us at Doane & Doane, PA. Call today at 561-656-0200 or fill out our online contact form.
What Does Probate Mean?
The term “probate” is the process by which a court (the probate court) identifies and collects the assets of a person who recently passed away (the decedent) and administers those assets so outstanding bills are paid, and then the remainder is appropriately distributed to the heirs of the decedent.
The probate court will typically administer the decedent’s assets in the following order:
- Pay the cost of the probate proceeding itself;
- Pay the decedent’s funeral expenses;
- Pay the decedent’s outstanding debts; and
- Then distribute the remainder to the decedent’s beneficiaries.
I Have Heard that There are Different Types of Probate, Is That True?
Yes. There are two main types of probate administration processes in Florida – a formal administration and summary administration.
The difference between the two essentially has to do with the value of the decedent’s estate. If the total value of the decedent’s assets is less than $75,000 or if the decedent has been dead for more than two years, then a summary administration would be appropriate. Otherwise, a formal administration is typically the process for the probate of a decedent’s assets.
Note, however, that if a decedent’s assets are of minimal value, it is possible to use a non-court-supervised administration process called “Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration.” That process is only applicable in very limited circumstances.
What Is Considered a Probate Asset?
A probate asset is an asset that was owned solely by the decedent at his or her death (or was owned by the decedent and a co-owner but the co-owner did not automatically receive full ownership at death). Accordingly, the following would be considered probate assets:
- Bank accounts or investment accounts in the sole name of the decedent;
- A life insurance policy, annuity contract, or individual retirement account payable to the decedent’s estate (accounts in which a beneficiary is designated, however, is not a probate asset);
- Real estate in the sole name of the decedent.
I Heard Probate is Costly and Takes a Long Time. Is Probate Necessary?
It is true that the probate process could be costly, could take a long time, and could generate no small amount of frustration for those who have to go through it. Yet, unless a person has engaged in some estate planning with an experienced estate attorney during his or her lifetime to try to avoid probate (by, for example, putting assets into a trust), the probate process is necessary.
Specifically, it is necessary to pass ownership of the decedent’s probate assets to the decedent’s heirs. If the decedent had a valid will, then the probate court needs to be involved in the distribution of assets in accordance with the will. And if the decedent did not have a will, the probate court must still be involved to pass ownership of probate assets in accordance with Florida law.
In short, probate is the way in which the State of Florida can be sure that a decedent’s assets were appropriately administered. At times clunky, but it was a way to make sure that Florida law is enforced.
Overall, the Florida probate process is a cumbersome but necessary part of ensuring a person’s assets go to where they should go after that person has passed away. Of course, the best and most efficient way to navigate Florida’s probate process is to have a seasoned probate attorney at your side.
Speak with a Doane & Doane Attorney For Any of Your Florida Estate Law Questions
Founded in 2003 by husband and wife legal team, Randell C. Doane and Rebecca G. Doane, Doane & Doane provides legal and financial services to families, individuals, and businesses throughout Southeast Florida.
Estate planning is about much more than just giving away property. It is an act of love and kindness, with the ultimate goal of providing for the future financial security of your loved one. At Doane & Doane, our Wills and Trusts Attorneys in West Palm Beach help people plan for retirement, make provisions for loved ones, figure out future child support, and minimize tax liability. Experienced wills and trusts attorneys know which tools to use to get the best results for their clients. Our lawyers can help you determine which tools are best suited to your specific circumstances.
When it comes to probate matters, such as the formal administration of an estate, Florida fiduciaries seek the assistance of the attorneys at Doane & Doane, P.A. to administer and manage their trusts and estates. Notably, the founding partners of Doane & Doane are board-certified West Palm Beach Probate Attorneys. With the additional advantage of certified public accountancy in their backgrounds, they present a unique combination of skills and experience which enables them to effectively settle, administer, and manage clients’ trusts and estates.
Since the day we opened our doors, we have worked hard to earn a reputation as one of the region’s most prominent tax and estate planning law firms in Palm Beach County, Florida. Our dynamic team includes the firm’s founding partners, experienced associate attorneys, and an outstanding team of paralegals, legal assistants, and support
Call us at Doane & Doane, P.A. to help you if you are faced with a probate matter, or if you would like estate planning services in Florida. You can reach us at 561-656-0200. Call us today.