Probate Administration

Probate is the court-supervised process of settling the estate of a deceased person (decedent). Unlike many states, Florida probate matters generally require the involvement of a licensed attorney to administer the estate. The Florida Probate Code provides for rare exceptions to this requirement, such as very small estates (“disposition without administration”) or in cases where the executor of the estate is also the sole beneficiary of the estate.

The requirement of an attorney’s help for probate speaks to the complexity of the Florida probate process. Probate, also called “estate administration,” is a formal process with many technical requirements. Probate documents must contain specific language and adhere to rigid specifications. The services of an attorney are beneficial to both the executor of the estate, who must navigate the probate process, and the heirs or beneficiaries who benefit from efficient estate administration.

The Law Office of Nicole K. Shafran represents executors and administrators of Florida estates in fulfilling their obligations. Nicole understands that, for the families involved, probate is much more than just a legal process. She is committed to guiding clients through this challenging time with skill and sensitivity.

Essentials of an Estate Administration

Any assets owned in a decedent’s sole name without a beneficiary designated must pass through the probate administration process, whether or not the decedent had a Will. Assets in a trust or held jointly with another person do not have to pass through probate.

A decedent who died without a Will is said to have died “intestate.” If the decedent had a valid Will, such Will likely named a personal representative (also referred to as an “executor”), who must be granted letters of administration authorizing them to administer the estate. If there was no Will, the court will appoint the person with priority under Florida law as administrator; this is usually a spouse or other close relative.

Most Florida estates must go through formal probate. The formal probate process typically takes between six months and a year; however, it can take longer if there are unusual or complex assets, creditor disputes, or disputes among heirs. Certain estates with less than $75,000 in assets may go through an expedited probate process called summary administration.

Duties of a Florida Personal Representative

The personal representative of a Florida probate estate is a fiduciary: someone who is obligated to act in the best interests of others. In this case, the fiduciary must act in the best interests of interested parties to the probate proceedings. That includes heirs, but also creditors of the estate.

If you are a personal representative, you have a number of responsibilities, many of which will be unfamiliar and may be confusing and overwhelming. The assistance of an experienced probate attorney will help the probate process unfold more smoothly and efficiently.

Duties of a personal representative in Florida include:

  • Identifying, locating, securing, valuing, and insuring estate assets
  • Identifying creditors and heirs of the estate and giving them notice of the probate proceedings
  • Filing income tax and other tax returns on behalf of the estate and paying any taxes due
  • Paying legitimate debts of the estate according to the priority established by Florida law
  • Distributing remaining assets of the estate to beneficiaries, if the decedent left a Will; if there was no Will, distributing the remaining assets of the estates to heirs under Florida law. This may involve transferring legal title to certain assets.

Because a personal representative’s actions affect the legal rights of others, failure to properly carry out these duties can result in serious legal consequences, including personal liability. A probate attorney helps the personal representative to fulfill their responsibilities and steer clear of potential pitfalls. The services of a probate attorney are considered a benefit to the estate, and are generally paid out of estate assets, rather than from the personal representative’s personal funds.

Boca Raton Estate Administration Attorney

Boca Raton probate attorney Nicole K. Shafran is well-equipped to guide you through the challenges of the Florida probate process. Her background includes years of work in the private wealth department of a multinational professional services corporation, with a focus on gift and estate tax. Nicole also holds a Master of Laws (LLM) in taxation, and has the legal knowledge needed to help personal representatives navigate the probate of estates involving significant assets or tax issues.

If you need to administer a Florida probate estate, please contact the Law Office of Nicole K. Shafran to schedule a consultation to discuss your situation.