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What Is Probate?Probate is a legal term given to the process of proving a will. Probate ensures that the deceased’s estate is distributed fairly among the heirs by following the wishes planned in their Will. If there was no Will left behind, the process goes through probate court to determine how the estate will be distributed among the deceased’s heirs. While probate can often take a few weeks for smaller estates, it can last years for bigger estates with individuals making claims and petitions in court.
What Is a Probate Lawyer?A probate lawyer is a Florida state licensed attorney who guides the executors and beneficiaries of a will or estate through the probate process. From identifying estate assets and beneficiaries, to distribution of the inheritances, they ensure everything is done correctly and as planned by the deceased when they were alive. Probate lawyers help avoid conflicts, misunderstandings and ensure a smooth transition of assets outside of court.
Do I Need a Probate Lawyer in Florida?In almost all circumstances, you are required to hire a Probate lawyer in Florida. There are only rare instances where it is not necessary. These include ‘disposition without administration’, ‘summary administration’ (for very small estates) and any estate where the executor is the sole beneficiary. However, even then it is advised given the technical complexities.
To Overcome The Technical HurdlesUnder Florida probate law, after someone passes away, their assets must be transferred out of their name. Doing so requires complicated technical rules and hurdles that can be highly frustrating for a non-lawyer. In particular, the system in Florida is often too complex to follow without guidance and there is a lack of set-up to provide legal assistance. Judges in Florida require probate documents to meet various specifications and wordings through forms that are mostly unavailable online or even in libraries.
To Avoid Family ConflictThe last thing you want after a family member passes away is a conflict in the family over money or assets. Sadly, it’s a story that repeats itself time and time again. One famous example came following the death of Jimi Hendrix in 1970. With no will to his name, he left behind a $160 million estate. Fifty years later and that battle is still raging on. These battles are not limited to the rich and famous. Thankfully, a probate lawyer can step in and detangle the complexities of managing any estate so family rifts are stopped. They ensure everyone gets the slice of pie that was planned for them.
If a Family Member is Making ThreatsIf you hear rumors of family members suing over disagreements or you’re beginning to see conflicts arising, then contact a probate lawyer in Florida as soon as possible. Probate lawsuits can tear families apart and cost a lot of money. Acting fast will minimize losses and get everyone a fair resolution faster than without the help of a professional.
Determining BeneficiariesIf there is no will, or if it’s unclear, you may struggle to determine who is getting what and who is involved in the Will. A probate attorney in Florida will take action by petitioning the probate court to determine the identity of the true beneficiaries.
Challenging the Validity of a WillOur probate lawyers in Florida regularly handle disputes over the validity of wills. These lawsuits can be filed before and after the Will is admitted to probate. Most commonly, a probate lawyer in Florida can help to contest wills for:
- A lack of signing formalities.
- If the person who made the Will lacked proper mental capacity when it was signed.
- Undue influence
Creating Estate PlansProbate lawyers in Florida can also help be proactive. If your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s, for example, then a probate attorney can help put in place an estate plan while your loved one is still able to. This ensures their vision and wishes are documented before it’s too late. Perhaps most importantly, a probate attorney in Florida will protect your loved one from outside influences that wish to take advantage of them.
Surviving SpousesIf you’re a surviving spouse, Florida law entitles you to certain benefits. A probate attorney in Florida will assist you in maximizing your entitlements.
Creditor ClaimsOften a creditor is owed money by a deceased person through unpaid medical bills or credit card bills. Family members should never voluntarily pay these bills, as there are certain criteria that the creditors must first meet. A probate lawyer in Florida can help provide guidance through creditor claims to ensure you and your loved one’s rights are protected.
Probate Attorney When There Is a WillIf someone in your family has died with a will to their name, then your family is advised to use a probate lawyer to guide all parties through the probate process – from the estate executor to the beneficiaries. This covers all manner of guidance from paperwork and distribution of assets to conflict and ensuring the Will was created in a fair environment – for example, if the decedent suffered from dementia.
Probate Attorney When There Is No WillIf the deceased did not create a will before their passing, then the estate is distributed among the rightful beneficiaries according to Florida law. In these circumstances, a probate attorney in Florida can help the estate administrator with the distribution of the assets in line with Florida state laws. In these situations, conflicts are often frequent and tensions can become high. Without a probate attorney in Florida, you may find yourself caught in disputes that last years.
Should We Use Summary Administration If Available?Although summary administration may be an option to you if your family is entitled to a small estate, it may not always be the best option. For example, it may be unsuitable if:
- The Will leaves property to many beneficiaries, who would each have to sign a contract to sell the property and other related papers.
- The beneficiaries include minors, so guardianships may need to be set up until they’re adults. However, with a probate attorney, you may be able to avoid that through the Florida Uniform Transfers to Minors Act.
- If a beneficiary is uncontactable, then summary administration cannot work without their presence. Probate, however, can.
- If a beneficiary refuses to cooperate, formal administration will likely be required, improperly filing summary administration may actually lengthen the probate process.