Sarasota Probate Administration Attorneys
Nothing hits a person harder than a loved one’s death. The grieving process becomes more complicated if you must serve as the personal representative of your loved one’s estate. In addition to coping with your loss, you may suddenly need to file paperwork and meet deadlines for tasks such as:
- Identifying estate assets
- Notifying and paying creditors
- Distributing remaining assets to beneficiaries or heirs.
Advice and representation from an experienced Sarasota probate lawyer at Buckman & Buckman, P.A., can help you to get through this difficult time.
We can also protect your rights if you have a dispute with the appointed personal representative of your loved one’s estate. For instance, we secured a $1.6 million estate litigation settlement for a client based on the wrongful procurement of a will and the personal representative’s breach of fiduciary duty. In another case, we obtained a $300,000 settlement against a trustee and personal representative who tried to defraud our client from her rightful inheritance.
Since 1998, the attorneys of Buckman & Buckman have handled probate administration cases of all kinds for people throughout the Sarasota and Manatee communities. We have earned a reputation in Florida for the way we always aggressively protect our clients’ rights and interests. Simply put: As our client, we will work tirelessly to make things right for you.
To discuss how we can assist with your probate administration legal needs – or to discuss estate planning services we can provide that help you to protect assets and avoid probate litigation – connect with us today. We will provide a free and confidential consultation at our Sarasota office or at a location that is more convenient for you.
What Happens to a Person’s Estate When They Die in Florida?
When we die, we leave behind assets such as a home, land, cars, boats, jewelry, family heirlooms and bank, investment and retirement accounts. Of course, we also leave behind debts. Typically, those debts include medical bills and funeral and burial expenses, but they could also include a mortgage, car loan or credit card accounts.
What happens with those assets and debts after a person dies in Florida depends, first, on whether the person left a valid will, or a will that is:
- In writing;
- Signed by the person and witnesses; and
- Meets all of the law’s technical requirements.
If valid, a will controls important issues. For instance, the will may name:
- The personal representative in charge of estate administration
- Beneficiaries who are entitled to the estate’s assets (minus debts and administrative costs).
However, if a will fails to address one or both of these issues – or if a person leaves behind no will, or dies “intestate” – then Florida law will control administration of the estate.
Of course, if the will is vague in certain areas or appears suspicious, then a will contest may arise. For instance, you may question whether your loved one lacked mental capacity to sign the will or an addendum to it, or you may believe that someone else wrongfully influenced the will’s terms. If you believe that you have a potential will dispute, Buckman & Buckman can review your case and explain your rights and potential legal options.
Regardless of whether a will exists, someone must settle the estate after a person dies. Under Florida law, three ways to administer an estate are:
- Disposition without administration
- Summary probate administration
- Formal probate
The type of process depends on factors such as whether the person left behind real estate, the total value of the estate and whether the person’s death occurred more than two years ago. When you meet with Buckman & Buckman, we can help you to select an estate administration process or explain the process that is already underway in your case.
What Is Probate Administration in Florida?
“Probate” is a term that some people often use generically in Florida to describe the court-supervised process of:
- Identifying a person’s assets and debts after they die
- Paying creditors and taxes
- Resolving all probate administration costs
- Distributing the person’s remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in a will or the heirs entitled to receive those assets under Florida law.
If you hear someone say that an estate must “go through probate,” or they need to “probate an estate,” they are probably referring to either summary or formal probate administration. Disposition without administration – an option available if an estate meets certain criteria – is a much simpler process that does not require court supervision.
Legal issues often arise when an estate goes through formal probate administration. This is because the Florida summary probate administration process should be a much more streamlined and smoother process. However, if you have questions or specific problems with the summary probate administration of your loved one’s estate, you should speak with a lawyer at Buckman & Buckman and act to protect your rights and interests.
How Does Florida Formal Probate Administration Work?
The formal probate administration process in Florida can be highly complex. The court – typically in the county where your loved one lived at the time of death – must oversee the completion of a series of steps, including:
- Depositing and determining the validity of the will. If your loved one left a will, the “custodian” of the will must deposit it with the clerk’s office in the proper court within 10 days of learning about the death. A court will admit the will to probate only if it meets all Florida legal requirements. For instance, the will must have been signed by your loved one and witnesses before a notary public. This would make the will “self-proving.” If it is not self-proving, a personal representative or other party may need to swear an oath about the will’s authenticity.
- Petition for administration and appointment of personal representative. Any “interested person” – or one who will be affected by the settling of your loved one’s estate – may file a petition for formal probate administration. If your loved one’s will named a personal representative, you or that person will ask the court to formally appoint and grant “letters of administration.” This document gives the personal representative the power to manage the estate. Even if the will does not designate you as the personal representative, you may ask the court to appoint you.
- Identify, collect, evaluate and manage assets. The personal representative of your loved one’s estate must identify all “probate” assets. These are assets that your loved one owned alone or owned with one or more others which did not pass on to those others – by contract or as a matter of law – when your loved one died. An accountant and appraisal expert can provide a great deal of help at this stage when it comes to tracking down and putting a value on assets. Often, the personal representative will sell assets like a home, car or other property. This is the purpose of “estate sales.”
- Pay creditors and taxes. The personal representative must properly search for and notify creditors and pay any debts that your loved one owed at the time of death. If your loved one was elderly or experienced a long illness before death, the personal representative may need to pay hospital bills. In some cases, a hospital, nursing home or health insurance provider may agree to a settlement of the debt. Also, the personal representative must pay all state or federal taxes that are due.
- File a final accounting. At some point, a personal representative may file an “interim” accounting of the estate. This is a report on how the person has managed the estate to date, including a summary of all transactions in which the person collected, spent or otherwise disbursed estate funds. The personal representative also will need to file a “final” accounting that a court must approve.
- Close the estate. After the final accounting, the personal representative winds up affairs by filing a petition for discharge of the estate and a plan for the final distribution of the estate’s assets to any remaining creditors, beneficiaries or heirs.
As you can see, the personal representative must handle many duties and obligations throughout formal probate administration in Florida, which can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year to complete. If the personal representative is negligent at any step, that person could be held liable by anyone who suffers harm because of that negligence.
Do You Need a Lawyer for Probate Administration?
If you serve as the personal representative of your loved one’s estate, you typically will need a lawyer. An attorney with experience handling probate administration in Florida will know how to guide you through a complex and potentially confusing process. The attorney can also take steps on your behalf that will allow you to probate your loved one’s estate as smoothly as possible. The lawyer can also protect you from any liability risks and defend you if another party takes legal action against you.
A lawyer can also play a valuable role if you are not appointed as the personal representative. For instance, an attorney can help you to challenge the validity of the will or the appointment of the personal representative. The attorney can also help you to object to issues such as the inventory of the estate’s assets, the final accounting or claims made on the estate.
Contact Our Sarasota Probate Attorneys
If you need assistance with any legal matter concerning the settling of your loved one’s estate – regardless of whether you are the personal representative – contact the experienced probate administration lawyers of Buckman & Buckman, P.A.
We can provide a free and confidential consultation through our office in Sarasota. Call or reach us online today.