Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About Probate & Estate Administration

What is probate? Probate is the process of administering a deceased person's estate. During the probate process, the decedent's valid debts and taxes are paid and the remaining assets are transferred to the decedent's beneficiaries. Probate is a judicial process and requires the filing of pleadings with the court. The pleadings will include a Petition for Administration, an Inventory, a Notice of Administration, a Notice to Creditors, a Statement Regarding Creditors, Interim Accountings, a Final Accounting, and a Petition for Discharge. You can expect a Formal Probate (discussed in more detail below) to last a minimum of five to six months.

What assets pass through probate? Any assets solely in the decedent's name. Assets that pass by contract, such life insurance, retirement benefits, and annuities, pass outside of probate to the named beneficiaries. Certain assets titled jointly with the decedent and others pass outside of probate and vest in the survivor(s) upon the decedent's death.

What happens if a person dies without a Will? Dying without a will is known as dying intestate. When a person dies intestate, state law determines who will be the personal representative and where the assets pass.

What is Summary Administration? In Florida, there are two types of probate, Summary Administration and Formal Administration. Summary Administration is a shortened probate process. In a Summary Administration, no personal representative is appointed. One or more interested persons petition the court for an order directing how the assets will pass. To qualify for Summary Administration, the value of the entire estate subject to administration (not including assets that are exempt from the claims of creditors) must not exceed $75,000 or the decedent must have been dead for more than 2 years. If an estate does not qualify for Summary Administration, then the estate must be administered under Formal Administration.

What is Formal Administration? In a Formal Administration, the court will appoint a personal representative (known as an executor in many states). The personal representative is charged with taking control of the assets of the estate and filing with the court a detailed inventory of the estate's asset. The personal representative must also make a diligent search for known creditors and serve them with notice of the administration. To the extent of estate assets that are not exempt from the claims of creditors, any valid debts must be paid and satisfied. The personal representative must file the decedent's final tax returns and pay any taxes. In large estates, the personal representative will be required to file a federal estate tax return and potentially a state inheritance tax return. Finally, the personal representative must distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.

How does charge? Florida law provides that it is reasonable for attorneys/lawyers to charge based upon a statutory percentage rate. In many instances, we believe such fees are inappropriate for the expertise and services required. As such, we charge flat fees or by the hour for administering estates. We give free initial consultations to clients. After gathering information during the initial consultation, we will quote a fee arrangement for our client's consideration.

Where does handle probate matters? We are based in Pensacola but handle probate and estate administration matters throughout Florida. In the vast majority of probates, no appearance before the court is needed; the process merely requires the filing of pleadings. In cases where a court appearance is necessary, as is customary in many cases, we can either appear by telephone or simply work with local counsel.