A probate judge is in charge of the probate process, and his or her role in the process depends a great deal on whether or not a will is involved in the probate proceedings, as well as whether there’s conflict between family members.
In Florida, the probate judge is actually a Circuit Court Judge.
If there’s a will, then the judge normally names the person appointed in the will as personal representative of the estate. In some cases, there’s a conflict between the will and state law, so the judge then has to decide who should serve as personal representative.
If there is no will, then the judge appoints a personal representative for the estate. Normally, if the decedent was married, then the decedent’s spouse is given first opportunity to serve as personal representative. If the decedent was not married, then a majority of the decedent’s heirs are given a chance to agree on who should serve as personal representative. If the heirs can’t agree, then the judge holds a hearing before deciding who will serve as personal representative.
Once the personal representative is appointed, if there is no conflict among the heirs or beneficiaries of an estate, then the probate judge’s role is largely limited to overseeing the administration of the decedent’s estate and reviewing and approving all the necessary orders.
If there’s conflict among the heirs and beneficiaries, though, then the judge becomes much more involved, and can include holding multiple hearings, and, in rare instances, removing a personal representative or declaring a will invalid.