Dying With A Will In Florida
If you have recently lost a loved one in Florida, or if you are a resident of Florida and are starting to consider your estate planning options, you may be wondering what happens after someone who has a will dies–does the will make a difference? What are the next steps? These are all valid and important questions that can help you to navigate the probate process and make the best estate planning decisions for you and your loved ones.
What is Probate?
Whether someone has a will or not, their estate will proceed to probate court after their death. The role of probate court is to identify all assets belonging to the estate, settle any outstanding debts, and distribute the remaining assets to the testator’s intended beneficiaries (if there was a will) or to the testator’s beneficiaries as determined by Florida’s intestate succession statutes (if the testator does not have a will). Having a will makes a big difference in this sense, because it gives the testator far more control over how their assets are distributed, and allows them to pick their beneficiaries.
Determining the Validity of the Will
One of the other important functions of probate court when a testator dies with a will is to determine whether the will is valid. In order for a will to be valid in Florida, it must have been signed by a testator (or their personal representative, in their presence) in the presence of at least two witnesses who also signed the will. If anyone who stood to inherit from the testator believes that the will was fraudulent, or that the testator was forced into creating the will through undue influence, they can challenge the validity of the will in probate court. If the will is determined to be valid, the assets will be distributed to the intended beneficiaries in accordance with the will. This will generally be done through a personal representative, who may be appointed by the testator or by the court, to identify assets and intended beneficiaries. The personal representative will be paid a reasonable fee through the estate. Court costs will also be covered by the estate. If there are no challenges made to the will and the estate is well organized, probate may be a fairly quick process, taking only a matter of months. However, if it is a high-asset estate and multiple challenges are made to the validity of the will, the probate process may take over a year.
There may be some situations in which a decedent can avoid formal administration by the probate court. These situations include where a testator owns no land, property, or real estate, and their assets are insufficient to pay back any outstanding debts. This is known as disposition without administration, and can allow the person who paid for the decedent’s funeral expenses to seek reimbursement. Summary administration is an option if the decedent passed away more than two years ago or if their total estate valued less than $75,000, and allows their assets to be distributed directly via the personal representative named in their will.
Contact the Law Offices of Larry E. Bray
If you need professional estate planning guidance or legal assistance with a probate issue, the Law Offices of Larry E. Bray can help. Contact West Palm Beach estate planning lawyer Larry E. Bray today and schedule a consultation.