If you recently lost a family member or loved one you are likely experiencing a range of heightened emotions as you process the loss. Anger, denial, confusion and grief are all common reactions to the loss of someone close. The last thing on your mind may be the legal ramifications of your loved one’s death. If, however, you were named as the Executor of the estate in your loved one’s Last Will and Testament, your loved one has put you in charge of the administration of his/her estate. You may also find yourself in charge of the estate if your loved one died intestate, or without a Will and you find yourself volunteering to be the Personal Representative of the estate. Retaining the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to assist you throughout the probate of the estate is the best way to ensure that the probate process runs smoothly and without errors. To get you started, however, the estate planning attorneys at Kulas & Crawford have compiled some commonly used probate resources for the Port St. Lucie, Florida area.
Probate Basics for the Beginner
Probate is the legal process that is typically required after someone dies. Probate serves several important functions, including providing a legal framework within which the decedent’s assets are transferred to the new owners as well as ensuring that all creditors of the estate, including tax authorities, are paid. The individual who oversees the probate of an estate is referred to as the Executor and is appointed by the decedent if a Last Will and Testament was executed prior to death. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, any competent adult may volunteer to be the “Personal Representative(PR) and oversee the probate of the estate. The duties and responsibilities of an Executor and Personal Representative are essentially the same and the generic term “Personal Representative” is frequently used to refer to either someone appointed in a Will or who volunteered for the position. In a testate estate, the terms of the Will dictate how the estate assets are distributed whereas in an intestate estate the Florida intestate succession laws govern the distribution of the decedent’s estate assets. For more general information on the probate process, the American Bar Association has a section entitled “The Probate Process” on its website that you may wish to read. The Florida Bar Association also offers several pamphlets relating to the probate process in the State of Florida and the Port St. Lucie Probate Court Clerk’s website has a Probate FAQs section you may find helpful.
The probate of an estate is usually initiated in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of death. For example, if the decedent was a resident of Port St. Lucie, Florida at the time of death, the probate of the estate will be initiated in the St. Lucie County Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Court. PRs must retain the services of an attorney to assist during the probate process in most cases.
Finding the Right Attorney
Finding the right probate attorney is important. A good place to start is with the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys website. The AAEPA is a national organization of attorneys who have chosen to focus their practice on legal issues related to wills, trusts, and estates. Membership in the AAEPA signifies that an attorney has proven experience in the areas of estate planning and/or elder law. In addition, both the Florida Bar Find a Lawyer service and the St. Lucie County Bar Association may be helpful in the search for the right attorney.
Personal Representative Resources
As the Personal Representative of the estate you will have numerous duties and responsibilities throughout the probate process. To get the probate process started you will need to file the appropriate petition with along with the original copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament and a certified copy of the death certificate with the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Court. You may obtain certified death certificates from the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics. You will also likely need to conduct a thorough search to make sure you have identified all real property owned by the decedent. A good place to start is the website for the St. Lucie County Tax Collector’s website where you can search county property records. As the PR you will also be responsible for notifying all creditors of the estate that probate is underway. Known creditors may be notified individually; however, for unknown creditors you must publish a notice in a local newspaper which may be accomplished by navigating to Florida Public Notices.com.
Does the Estate Owe Federal Gift and Estate Taxes?
Every taxpayer is potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxation at the time of their death. Therefore, as the PR of the estate, you may need to prepare and file a federal gift and estate tax return and pay any tax due to Uncle Sam using available estate assets.The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website offers a general overview of the federal estate tax. They also have a “Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Tax” section that may be helpful. If it turns out that the estate does owe federal gift and estate taxes, any tax obligation due must be paid before any assets are transferred out of the estate.
For more information, or if you have specific questions or concerns regarding estate planning, or wish to get started on your plan, contact the experienced Port St. Lucie, Florida estate planning attorneys at Kulas & Crawford by calling (772) 398-0720 to schedule an appointment.