Probate Lawyer St. Petersburg
Losing a loved one can be devastating, and it can be even more complicated and difficult by legal paperwork. A probate administration will be required to identify and notify creditors, handle any claims of creditors, secure estate assets, distribute estate assets to beneficiaries, file tax returns, and otherwise handle any estate matters if the decedent owned assets (or was entitled to assets) in his or her name. For example, if a person dies (the decedent) and that decedent owns a home in his or her name (without a joint owner), that home will need to be included in a probate estate in order to clear title to the home before it can be sold. Certain types of assets, such as life insurance policies, IRAs, and 401ks, often list beneficiaries. Accordingly, those assets would not be subject to probate, assuming there are valid beneficiary designations in place, and those beneficiaries are still alive at the time of the decedent’s death.
The probate administration is a court process which may be lengthy and costly, and may cause unnecessary stress to a decedent’s loved ones. If the decedent died with a will, the estate is testate. If the decedent died with no will, the estate is intestate. If a person dies without a will, the laws of the state of Florida will dictate who has priority to administer the estate, who receives the assets, and in what shares the beneficiaries receive the assets. Oftentimes, the default inheritance laws (intestate succession) does not reflect the decedent’s wishes. Further, there may be additional unintended outcomes of not having a will or trust such as the requirement to establish a court-supervised guardianship if a minor or incapacitated person is a beneficiary, or the loss of state benefits by a beneficiary.
Under ideal circumstances, probate reaches its conclusion and the estate settles in less than a year, but no two estates are alike. These are some factors that affect how simple or complex the probate of a given estate will be:
- The value of the estate
- Debts owed by the decedent
- Whether the decedent wrote and properly executed a will
- The circumstances under which the decedent wrote the will, and whether the decedent wrote more than one version
- Whether the beneficiaries listed in the will are the decedent’s close relatives
- How many beneficiaries there are
- The relationship between the personal representative of the estate and the beneficiaries of the will
- Whether real estate is an asset of the estate
- Whether one or more tax returns are due on behalf of the decedent or his / her estate
In a Florida estate, the Personal Representative must be represented by an attorney licensed to practice law in Florida, unless the Personal Representative is the sole heir of the estate. In the event that the Personal Representative is the sole heir, it is still wise for the Personal Representative to hire an experienced probate attorney because the process can be complicated and daunting.
Paying Debts During Probate
One challenging and potentially time-consuming aspects of probate is settling the decedent’s outstanding debts. The estate cannot settle, and the beneficiaries cannot receive their inheritance, until creditors have had a chance to collect the decedent’s outstanding debts from the estate. The personal representative must notify all the decedent’s known creditors that the estate has opened for probate. The personal representative must also publish a notice announcing that all creditors, whether or not the personal representative has previously contacted them, have the right to present their claims in probate court.
It is possible that, once all the creditors have settled their claims and collected their debts, the money left to distribute to the beneficiaries listed in the will could be a lot less than what the beneficiaries had hoped to inherit. It is also possible that the personal representative will have to sell some of the estate’s assets in order to satisfy the debts. Some assets may be exempt from claims of creditors, and an experienced probate attorney can advise the Personal Representative on which assets may be exempt and guide them through the process that is required for the probate court to determine those assets to be exempt.
The legal representation you choose can help the probate process proceed smoothly and with less stress. At Kruse Law, P.A. our St. Petersburg probate lawyer is highly qualified and experienced in estate administration. Kruse Law, P.A. will compassionately and skillfully guide you or your loved ones through the probate process.