If a loved one has died in Florida, or owned real property in the state at the time of their death, you will likely need to head to the Florida probate court to resolve their affairs. However, knowing which probate process to use could save your family time, court fees, and frustration.
Florida probate law sets out three options for addressing a deceased person’s affairs:
- Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration
- Formal Administration
- Summary Administration
Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration
This probate process is very rare and only applies in the smallest of cases where the person has died with no land or real property and their remaining (non-exempt) assets are less than their outstanding medical expenses and funeral and burial costs. If you are working with a Florida probate attorney, realistically, your family won’t qualify for this option. Instead, you and your lawyer will need to determine which is better for your family: summary administration or formal administration.
Formal Administration in Florida Probate Matter
Most estate administrations use the formal probate process. This process involves ongoing court supervision and ensures that the deceased’s wishes are fully understood. But that certainty comes at a price.
- Available for any estate.
The Formal Probate Process In Brief:
- Prepare and file the petition for administration and related probate court documents
- Receive Letters of Administration appointing a personal representative
- Publish the Notice to Creditors (in cases within 2 years of death where there is homestead property)
- Inventory all the decedent’s assets and debts
- Determine heirs and beneficiaries
- Carve out protected property under the homestead exemption and other probate laws
- Liquidate real and personal property as needed
- Pay creditors or defend against collections
- File final tax returns and settle estate taxes
- Distribute remaining property to beneficiaries per court order
- Close the estate and discharge the personal representative
The Cost of Formal Estate Administration:
The probate court’s filing fees, publication costs, and other expenses can add up to $650 or more depending on what part of the state you are in.
How Long Does the Formal Probate Process Take?
Formal administration can take six to eighteen months. Some probate administration cases remain open longer if there are problems selling a home or open collections cases.
Benefits of Choosing the Formal Process
- Letters of administration give the personal representative authority to work with financial institutions on behalf of the estate.
- The Personal Representative can locate accounts and get information about them even if the deceased didn’t leave any information behind.
- Personal representative has the authority to file taxes with the IRS and enter contracts on behalf of the estate (i.e. selling property).
- Personal representative can deal with creditors, negotiating the claims, and defending any old or uncollectable debts.
- The probate court can resolve difficult questions such as Will contests and clarify the deceased’s intent, beneficiaries, or the division of the estate.
Disadvantages of Formal Administration
- Longer proceedings mean heirs must wait to receive their inheritance.
- Court costs, attorney fees, and other professional expenses are higher because there are more court hearings and steps involved.
- Personal representatives must do more work to meet the probate court’s reporting requirements.
Summary Administration in Florida Probate Matter
For families with fewer assets, Florida probate law provides a shorter, summary administration. However, this process limits the power of those involved in distributing the estate.
- The deceased passed more than two years before filing, or
- The value of the entire probate estate, other than protected homestead, is less than $75,000 and the deceased person had no creditors (alternatively, the court paperwork can provide that they will all be paid)
- As a practical matter, the family must know the location and value of the assets for Summary Administration to be possible.
The Process of Summary Administration:
- Prepare and file the Petition for Summary Administration and related probate court documents
- Apply for the homestead exemption
- Adjust filed pleadings to provide for payment of creditors (if necessary)
- Obtain order Distributing remaining property to beneficiaries and creditors
- Optionally publish a Notice to Creditors.
- Provide financial institutions with certified copy of the orders and obtain the assets.
The Cost of Summary Estate Administration:
The probate court’s filing fees, publication costs, and other expenses generally range between $400-$500, depending on whether publication of a notice to creditors is needed.
How Long Does Florida Summary Administration Take?
Summary administration can be resolved in as little as three to six months. If circumstances delay the resolution -- such as a Will contest -- the matter will be converted to a Formal Administration.
Benefit of Choosing a Summary Administration
- Shorter legal process
- Court costs, attorney fees, and professional expenses are generally lower
- Court reports are less complicated
- May not require publication of the family’s loss
Disadvantages of Summary Administration
- No personal representative is given authority to act on behalf of the estate which means there is not a practical way to find hidden assets or negotiate with creditors.
- Liquidating and transferring assets can be more difficult if banks, financial institutions, or realtors will not work with the individual handling the estate’s affairs.
- The two year waiting period can delay resolution of family affairs.
- Without a formal inventory of assets, it is up to the family to account for all the deceased’s assets prior to filing.
Summary Administration vs Formal Administration: Which is Best for You?
As you can see, there is no one right answer to whether you should file a summary or formal administration. That will depend on what types of assets your loved one left behind, the size of the estate, and whether there are creditors that need to be satisfied. Even when it appears a summary administration will be enough, an unhappy beneficiary may be able to file a Will challenge, converting the matter and extending the time before your family will receive your inheritances.
This is why working with an experienced estate administration attorney is so important. At Harrison Estate Law, P.A., our experienced estate and probate team are here to take the strain off of your shoulders. We will help you decide the best strategy for your family’s estate and ensure you satisfy the court’s requirements at every stage. We will help you be sure your family members are provided for after a loved one’s death. Contact us here or call 352-559-9828 to get help today.