Probate Administration

Many legal, financial and administrative steps must be taken following the death of a loved one. We provide a balanced approach to the estate settlement and probate process, being sensitive to the needs of beneficiaries, heirs and family members, but keeping in mind the desires of decedents and trust grantors. With personal attention, respect, and compassion, we guide personal representatives, trustees, heirs and beneficiaries through the estate and trust administration process from beginning to end, helping these individuals understand their duties and inheritance rights.”

Florida Probate Estate Administration

When a loved one passes away owning property, his or her estate often goes through a court-managed process called “probate” or estate administration wherein the claims of creditors of the deceased person are settled, and assets are managed and transferred to the persons named in the last will and testament, or to the heirs at law if there is no will. Depending on the type of property and how this property was titled, probate of the estate is usually required, even when the decedent left a valid last will and testament.

Probate requires the filing of particular and oftentimes complicated legal forms, thus, Florida law requires that virtually all estates retain a Florida probate attorney to assist with this complex process. The length of time needed to complete the probate of an estate depends on the size and complexity of the estate and the local rules and schedule of the probate court.

Administration of a particular probate estate is may vary, but usually involves the following steps:

• Filing of a Petition for Administration with the appropriate probate court.
• Notice to beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will or to heirs under Florida law.
• Appointment a Personal Representative of the estate.
• Inventory and appraisal of estate assets.
• Payment of enforceable debts of the decedent to rightful creditors.
• Sale of estate assets, if necessary.
• Payment of estate taxes, if applicable.
• Distribution of assets to heirs and beneficiaries.

Florida Estate Settlement

Even if a particular estate does not require a probate administration, all estates must be settled. There are specific documents to be filed with the court and/or other government agencies. Debts and oftentimes taxes need to be paid. Assets may need to be retitled and distributed to the rightful heirs and beneficiaries.

Non-probate assets may include property held in a revocable trust, assets held jointly with another person with rights of survivorship, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, annuities, and homestead property.

Due to the nature of title to real estate being based upon a “chain of title” as recorded in the county records and the fact that title insurers want to be sure that an heir properly inherited the real property before a sale or transfer is made, real estate almost always requires some sort of probate or other legal steps to be taken after its owner passes away in order to remove any clouds on title.

Although some assets do not go through the probate process, these assets are considered part of the estate for federal estate tax purposes. Thus, if an estate is taxable, a Federal Estate Tax Return must be filed. Furthermore, even if the estate owes no federal estate tax, the Florida Department of Revenue requires the filing of certain paperwork in order to remove Florida automatic estate tax lien on real property.

Florida Trust Administration

Probate may not be necessary when the deceased person left a properly drafted and funded trust; however, trust administration is necessary. Unlike a will, a trust is a private document that need not be filed with the probate court when a trust grantor (i.e., the person who created the trust) passes away. Nonetheless, the trustee must still take certain steps to administer the trust. Unfortunately, trustees often lack the time, resources or knowledge to personally administer the trust and, thus, often require the assistance of legal, accounting and investment professionals.

The trust administration process begins upon the death of the trust grantor, when a revocable trust becomes irrevocable. At this time, the person designated to serve as the trustee is charged with certain responsibilities of administering the trust in accordance with its terms. The complexity of the Florida trust administration process is generally based on the number, type and value of the trust grantor’s assets and the complexity of the trust’s provisions.

In general, the trustee has the following responsibilities in administering the trust:

• Notifying all trust beneficiaries of the trust’s existence and trustee’s duties.
• Keeping trust beneficiaries informed throughout the life of the trust.
• Gathering, accounting for and appraising the trust grantor’s assets.
• Prudently investing the trust’s assets.
• Notifying potential creditors and paying enforceable debts.
• Distributing income and/or assets to trust beneficiaries in conformity with the trust.
• Filing an income tax return for the decedent and an estate tax return for the estate.
• Filing an income tax return for each year the trust continues to be administered.
• Keeping accurate and up-to-date records of all trust activities.

Post-Mortem Estate and Tax Planning

Family members commonly believe that their deceased loved one properly planned because the decedent executed a last will and testament, created and funded a trust, or had designated certain individuals as beneficiaries. In fact, sometimes the decedent’s plans can actually have a negative impact on the family with regard to estate taxes, and/or Florida Medicaid planning strategies for the surviving spouse. In these situations, we may be able to advise you about post-mortem planning techniques that may rectify the situation. Post-mortem estate planning provides both the opportunity to maximize the amount of property received by the decedent’s intended beneficiaries, and to minimize the tax burden on the estate.

We handle Florida Probate Estate and Trust Administration and Estate Settlement cases in Miami, Broward, and throughout Florida. We work with both Florida and out-of-state personal representatives, beneficiaries, and heirs to settle Florida estate and trust matters. If you have questions about a probate, trust or inheritance matter in Florida, contact us at (305) 403-0641 or