Probate is the court-monitored process of settling a deceased person’s estate. When the deceased individual has a will, he is called the testator. In Florida, the probate court will oversee the gathering of a testator’s assets, paying of his debts and distribution of his assets to will beneficiaries. In Florida, this closely-monitored probate process is called formal administration.
File the will. The individual in possession of the will files the document with the clerk of the Florida circuit court in the county where the testator lived. The will must be filed within 10 days of learning of the testator’s passing. The local circuit court may require additional paperwork to be filed with the will. Consult the local circuit court clerk to determine what additional paperwork is required.
File a petition for administration. A petition for administration is a formal request that the circuit court probate the will. Any “interested person” can file the petition. An interested person is anyone who is reasonably affected by the outcome of the probate proceedings.
Appoint a personal representative. This person, sometimes called an executor or executrix, is appointed by the court through formal letters of administration. The personal representative will be responsible for gathering, controlling and distributing the decedent’s assets, paying debts, identifying beneficiaries, and reporting to the court throughout the probate proceedings. The person nominated in the will as personal representative will usually serve unless the court finds a compelling reason to appoint another person.
Determine the validity of the will. The court will automatically recognize the validity of a self-proving will in Florida. A will is self proving if it conforms to Florida law and the testator and witnesses signed a notarized affidavit confirming the validity of their signatures on the will. If affidavits were not completed at the time of the will signing, one of the witnesses can sign an oath stating that the testator’s signature and the witness’s signature on the will are authentic.
File an accounting. The personal representative is required to perform an accounting of the testator’s estate for the probate court. The accounting will detail all actions taken by the personal representative in the course of administering the estate. The accounting will list all disbursements from the estate and provide receipts of all other transactions. A notice of the accounting will be given to all interested parties by the clerk of the court. Interested parties have 30 days to object to any aspect of the accounting. The court will then hold a hearing to formally approve the accounting.
Close the estate. After the final accounting, the personal representative files a petition for discharge of the estate. The personal representative will include a plan for distributing the estate's remaining assets and settling its remaining debts. Once all assets are distributed and all debts are satisfied, the personal representative provides proof of both to the court and the court enters an order closing the estate and discharging the personal representative.
If the testator left the will in a safe deposit box and no other person has access to the box, you must petition the court to open the safe deposit box and retrieve the will.
In addition to formal administration, Florida offers streamlined summary administration, ancillary administration and disposition without administration. If the estate is small, or other circumstances apply, the testator’s will may qualify for one of these alternative probate administration options.
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