What are the Major Steps of the Probate Process?
Probate is a process by which a deceased person’s estate is settled and finalized. Although this involves probate court, the bulk of this process is administrative and handled outside of the courtroom. In fact, it is rare for a person administering an estate to go to the courthouse for any reason. The following are the major steps of the probate process:
- A personal representative is appointed: Whether through the will of the decedent or by the appointment of a judge, a personal representative (in some states, still called an executor) will be named to handle the closure of the estate and oversee the probate process. This person is responsible for finalizing all financial affairs of the decedent and carrying out any wishes detailed in the will.
- Commencing probate: If the person seeking to be appointed personal representative is entitled to preference in appointment (for example, she is the person nominated in the will to serve in that role) or if none of the other beneficiary do not object, the personal representative will be appointed by the court without any court appearance. This is usually the case in Florida.
- Validating the will: If the decedent created a will lifetime, a court must validate it. This can be accomplished by presenting a notarized statement signed by witnesses of the will, a sworn statement signed by a witness or through a witness’s court testimony. Most wills drawn by Florida probate attorneys have just such a sworn statement attached to the will at the time it is signed. Thus, the will is said to be self-proved.
- Paying creditors: During probate, creditors may come forward to collect any funds are owed to them from the estate. A separate bank account may be created to handle any debts. The personal representative will prepare a list of the decedent’s assets, which she will provide to the beneficiaries. In some estates, the personal representative may have the value of belongings appraised.
- Distribution of assets: Once creditors are paid, remaining property will be divided among the decedent’s beneficiaries in accordance with the provisions in the will. Trusts do not need to go through probate.
- Finalization: To close the decedent’s estate, the personal representative will file a final tax return for the decedent and present an outline of all activities handled throughout the probate process. If the beneficiaries do not object to the petition to close the estate, the process is complete.
For more information on working your way through the probate process in Florida, speak with an experienced Florida probate administration attorney at BaumannKangas Estate Law.