Some estates must go through the formal probate process in Florida. With probate, the court supervises the distribution of assets and payment of debts for a person’s estate.
If you are planning your own estate or have agreed to serve as the executor of a loved one’s estate, learn more about how Florida probate works.
Starting the process
The will’s executor or another representative or heir must request personal representative status. This takes place in the circuit court that serves the county where the deceased individual lived. The court will notify all beneficiaries and heirs of this request so that they have the opportunity to contest this appointment.
Only certain assets require probate. Exempt property includes homes another person co-owns with the deceased, bank accounts with a named beneficiary, and retirement accounts and life insurance policies with a named beneficiary.
Settling the estate
If no one contests the appointment of the personal representative, the court will issue Letters of Administration. This legal document allows the representative to take steps to settle the estate. This includes:
- Filing the will, if any, with the court, where the judge will determine its validity by taking statements from witnesses under oath (In Florida, the will is automatically valid if witnesses sign before a notary public after watching the deceased person sign the will)
- Paying any debts or tax liabilities the estate owes
- Taking inventory of the property held in the estate and seeking valuation if necessary
- Distributing property to the appropriate beneficiaries
Closing the estate
Once the above steps are complete, the court must receive a complete accounting of this process from the executor. Those who object have a final opportunity to request a court hearing. Otherwise, the representative can ask the court to close the estate, and the judge will issue an order to that effect.
On average, the Florida probate process can take six months to a year. When the person did not have a will, the court will follow state laws for inheritance.