If a loved one has passed away and you don’t know what you need to do, Harrison Estate Law, P.A. can help guide you through this difficult time. Every situation is different, and the tasks that need to be done vary greatly depending on individual circumstances. Florida probate or trust administration can typically be handled by mail, and we are able to advise you if you are located anywhere in the world as long as the person who passed away lived in Florida or owned real estate in Florida.
If you need assistance from a probate attorney in Gainesville or elsewhere in Florida, contact Harrison Estate Law for a complimentary consultation about how our experienced team can help you. We offer years of legal expertise but also pride ourselves on friendly, responsive service — your calls and emails will be answered, and we'll be sure to keep you aware of the progress of your probate matter. Consultations by phone or Skype are available.
There are two things we typically tell almost everyone who calls us after a loved one passes away:
First, we recommend that you ask the funeral home handling the cremation or burial to obtain for you five death certificates with the cause of death and five death certificates without the cause of death. These will be needed for various tasks that will need to be done to wrap up the person’s affairs. You may not need as many if the decedent (“decedent” means the person who has passed away) owned very few assets. Also, the funeral home will almost always notify the social security office for you, but please ask about it to make sure.
Second, we generally recommend that you do not rush to pay unsecured creditors such as medical bills or credit card bills, and particularly that you should not do so using your own assets until you speak with an attorney. Florida law provides for a specific procedure for the administration of creditors’ claims when a person has passed away, and there is generally not an obligation to pay a creditor who does not follow the appropriate procedure. There are various exceptions to this rule. In addition, there are situations in which it may be the best option to use your own money to pay a decedent’s debt, but we recommend that you discuss your options with us or another experienced Florida probate attorney before taking any action.
As you might expect, the Internal Revenue Service plays by a totally different set of rules, and if the IRS is actively seeking to collect taxes from you or the decedent then you should contact us or another Florida probate attorney right away.
As we noted above, every probate case is different. But here is a list of a few of the types of situations in which we are able to provide assistance:
If the decedent had a revocable or irrevocable trust and you are the trustee, then Florida and federal law impose a number of responsibilities that we can advise you about and assist you with carrying out.
Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing a decedent’s assets to his or her heirs or beneficiaries. We can help you determine whether a probate needs to be opened, what type of probate proceeding would be appropriate, and preparing the legal documents that will need to be filed with the Court. We can also advise you regarding your responsibilities as the personal representative (a/k/an executor) of a person’s estate. If the probate is not contested, then you will generally not have to go to court or appear before a judge.
We are often asked when probate is required in Florida. Generally, probate is required if the decedent died owning an asset such as a bank account or land that was titled only in the decedent’s name, without a beneficiary designated. It will generally not be possible to access these assets without a Court order, which is what a probate allows you to obtain. This will be true even if the person had a Will.
If a financial institution tells you that you need “Letters of Administration” or “Letters Testamentary,” then this means that they need an order from the Court before you will be permitted to access the asset in question. The “Letters of Administration” is not really a letter at all but is instead a Court order obtained in a probate proceeding which enables a personal representative to manage the assets of a deceased person.
If the decedent was not a Florida resident but owned real estate located in Florida, then a special type of probate known as ancillary administration (a/k/a non-domiciliary administration) may be required. This is because probate is governed by state law, and only a Court in the State of Florida has jurisdiction over Florida real property.
If you are entitled to receive money from an estate or trust but someone else is serving as the trustee or personal representative, we can advise you about the rights that you are owed by that person and help you protect your interests. If you are named as a beneficiary but the trustee or personal representative refuses to share any information with you, then there is a good chance that person is not fulfilling their legally mandated responsibilities.
If you would like assistance with handling an inheritance or advice regarding the death of a family member, please contact Harrison Estate Law online or via email or call 352-559-9828 to schedule a free consultation. If you don’t live close to Gainesville we are happy to set up a phone or Skype call.