The term “probate” refers to the court-supervised process for administering a deceased person’s estate. During the probate process, the decedent’s personal property and real estate are identified and gathered, his debts are paid and his leftover assets are distributed to his beneficiaries. If the decedent had executed a Will prior to his death, his assets are distributed in accordance with it. If there is no such document – or if the Will was not properly executed – his assets are distributed to his “intestate” heirs (i.e. children, grandchildren or other nearest relations). A Florida Will is properly executed if:
- The Testator (person to whom the Will belongs) was at least 18 years old or an emancipated minor, and he was of sound mind when he made the Will;
- The Will is written/ typed;
- The Testator signs at the end of the Will;
- Two witnesses also sign at the end of the Will in the presence of the Testator and each other, after having watched the Testator sign it.
There are three types of probate administration under Florida Probate law – formal, ancillary and summary administration, of which formal administration is most common – and one very rare process that is only minimally regulated by the court. If the decedent was domiciled (i.e. maintained his primary residence) outside of FL but owned property in FL, the estate may require ancillary administration. If the estate is administered more than two years after the decedent’s death and the entire estate is worth less than $75,000.00, it may be eligible for summary administration. If there is no real property in the decedent’s estate and other strict criteria are met, the estate may be disposed of without administration. The court will often approve this last process only to reimburse individuals who paid certain expenses on the decedent’s behalf (i.e. medical bills for up to 60 days prior to his death, funeral costs, etc.).
If the decedent’s estate is to be administered, it will be necessary to appoint a Personal Representative to act on his behalf. If the decedent has not named a PR in his Will or if there is no Will, the court will generally appoint a close relative as his PR. The PR is required to perform various duties and should hire a Probate attorney to help him through the often-complicated process. The PR is compensated for his efforts and for whatever he spends in the course of administering the decedent’s estate.