South Florida probate lawyer Randy A. Bryant has over a decade of experience assisting clients through all aspects of the probate process, including probate administration, will contests, probate litigation and simple receipts of inheritance. The Bryant Law Firm can help you understand the process from start to finish and can work with you to protect your rights and the rights of your loved ones.Beginning the Probate Process
Probate is the process of identifying the assets that belong to an estate, using those assets to pay any outstanding debts or obligations, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries identified in a will or, if no will is available, according to the laws of Florida. Upon the death of an individual, the first step in the probate process is the opening of the estate. This happens when the personal representative identified in a will, or an intended beneficiary of the estate, notifies the court of the need to open and administer the estate.
In order to prepare for the opening of the estate, several steps should ideally be taken in order to ensure that the future probate administration proceeds as smoothly as possible. Firstly, the personal representative of the estate should begin to assess the nature of the estate, including its size, assets to be included, and possible outstanding debts. As all assets must be accounted for during the probate administration process, it is important to begin to develop a list of these assets and their relevant details.
The personal representative should also seek out a qualified Florida probate attorney. Under Florida law, a personal representative is required to hire an attorney unless (1) the personal representative is himself an admitted Florida attorney or (2) the personal representative is the only interested party to the estate. A qualified attorney will help guide the administration of the estate and anticipate any issues that may arise or lead to probate litigation.Opening the Estate
Once the personal representative has begun a preliminary identification of the assets of the state and hired an attorney, the formal paperwork for the opening of the estate can be filed with the Florida probate court. Opening the estate must proceed in a very specific manner and includes:
- Filing a petition to open the estate with the court
- Filing proof of death for the deceased
- Filing an oath of office
- Providing of bond by the personal representative, though this can sometimes be waived
- Serving notice of impending estate administration to all interested parties including family members, beneficiaries, and trustees, as well as publishing notice for any potential creditors.
After these steps are followed, the court and personal representative may move forward with administration of the estate. If creditors or interested parties notified of the estate administration take issue with its proceedings or any will related to the estate, they may raise these issues through an objection to the court and the parties may proceed to litigation. Thus, in the context of a complicated or highly contested estate, the probate process can take years before completion.Closing the Estate
Once all claims to the estate have been addressed, all debts paid, and all assets accounted for and readied for distribution, the Florida probate court may conclude that estate administration is complete. At this point, the attorney may then file a petition to close the estate. In order to ensure that future issues do not arise related to the estate, the attorney may attempt to obtain “waiver and consent” forms from all interested parties consenting to the filing of the petition to close. If the parties will not agree to sign such forms, the personal representative must provide a formal accounting of all actions taken during the administration of the estate in order to provide a clear record of how all assets were distributed. The court will then approve this accounting and, after distribution is complete, discharge the personal representative and close the estate.Helping You Through The Probate Process
If you have a family member or loved one whose estate has entered the probate process, Miami probate lawyer Randy A. Bryant is here to help you. Whether you have been named personal representative of an estate, believe you are the beneficiary of a will, or are a creditor with a claim against an estate, the Bryant Law Firm can help you to understand the options available to you and how to handle the complexities of the probate process. To schedule a free consultation, contact us at 305.456.2777, or contact us online.