If you’ve recently had a loved one pass away and discovered that you’ve been named to act as the estate’s personal representative, you might assume that you have quite a task ahead of you. That assumption may just very well be correct. The fact is that the personal representative’s responsibilities in the probate administration process are many and varied. And while your activities will be conducted under the supervision of the probate court, that won’t help to mitigate any confusion you might have about how to fulfill your obligations. The good news is that a Port St. Lucie probate attorney can help to simplify the process.
Settling Estates in Florida
First of all, it is important to understand that probate administration is not the only way to settle an estate in the state. For example, if the deceased had assets that were designed to be automatically transferred to their heirs upon their death, then probate would be unnecessary. So, as a personal representative, any assets that you encounter that automatically pass on to another person are assets that you can ignore. These include property that is held in joint tenancy, trust assets, and assets that contain beneficiary designations or transfer-on-death provisions.
There is also a summary administration process that is basically a shortcut to probate. This process can be used whenever the probate estate is valued at $75,000 or less. It requires you to file a Petition for Summary Administration, and have that document signed by the decedent’s spouse if he or she is alive. This gets done by the executor, and avoids the need for the court to appoint you as a personal representative. For smaller and less complex estates, this allows the decedent’s assets to be more rapidly distributed to the heirs named in the will.
The Formal Administration Process
If the estate does have to go through probate, however, it is vital that everything be done according to the law. Probate is a formal process that begins with the issuance of Letters of Administration – the document that empowers you to handle the estate settlement – and ends with the court officially closing the estate. In between those two events, you will be involved in a variety of settlement activities that can take anywhere from several months to a year or even longer.
Your job begins with the gathering of the deceased’s documents and records, and the identification and securing of any and all assets he or she owned in life. You need to take custody of those assets to ensure that they are protected and preserved for later distribution to the deceased’s heirs. Once that is complete, you need to have those assets appraised so that you can create an inventory and assessment that provides a more complete picture of the true worth of the estate.
You will also need to identify creditors so that the estate’s debts can be settled. This requires sending out notices to known creditors – who can often be identified through the decedent’s own financial records – as well as posting notice to potential creditors so that they can make their claims to the court. In addition to dealing with those debts, you must also ensure that the decedent’s final income tax filing is taken care of, and determine whether the estate will be required to file an estate tax form as well. Once all legitimate debtor and tax claims have been resolved, then you can proceed to the distribution of any remaining assets.
If the decedent named you as a personal representative, then that’s usually a good indication that there’s a will. Distribution of assets should be made in accordance with the provisions contained within that Last Will and Testament. If there was no will and the court appointed you to oversee the probate administration process, then assets get distributed in accordance with the state’s intestacy laws.
Keep in mind that you have to five the court a final accounting of all assets in the estate, what you did with them during your period of administration, and which heirs will be receiving which assets. That final accounting is made to allow potential heirs an opportunity to make formal objections to the distribution plan before the assets are disposed of.
Once you have distributed each heir’s inheritance, you must then provide the court with receipts that serve as evidence of your activities, and formally request that the court close the estate for good. After that formal declaration ending the probate process, the estate is officially settled and your personal representative duties come to an end.
How Complex Can It Be?
When you simply list the broad outline of duties that you must fulfill, it might seem as though this is a fairly simple process. Sometimes, that can be true. In some instances, all of the documents you need are easy to locate, creditors and heirs are easily managed, and distribution goes off without any trouble whatsoever. That is not as common as you might imagine, however. It is every bit as likely that you’ll struggle to navigate through all of the complex legal processes involved in probate administration, and spend far more of your precious time dealing with these issues than you ever thought possible.
That’s where a competent probate attorney can alleviate the stress and worry, and help to simplify the entire process. At Robert Kulas Attorneys at Law, our estate planning attorneys have the probate experience you need to ensure that your time as a personal representative is relatively stress-fee. We can help you to better understand your duties, and fulfill them in a way that facilitates the fastest possible settlement of the estate. We understand how stressful it can be to be entrusted with such an awesome responsibility, and how easy it can be to make errors even when you’re trying your best to avoid them. Give us a call at (772) 398-0720 or contact us on our website today to learn how a Port St. Lucie probate attorney can improve your probate administration experience.