After a death in the family, a will must be probated (court-validated), and the deceased’s assets must be distributed as stipulated in their will. For the personal representative (executor) named by the deceased, this can be, depending on the size and complexity of the estate, a complicated process. The first thing you should do if you have been designated a personal representative in the Tampa Bay area of Florida is contacting Verras Law for prompt, effective guidance on the probate and estate administration process.
Our lead attorney, Spiro J. Verras has decades of successful experience in estate planning law. More than that, he is an empathic person who will provide the advice and services you need during this challenging time. Contact him now to feel the ease and confidence of being represented by a knowledgeable, skilled legal professional.
What Estate Administration Involves
Estate administration is the process of distributing the deceased assets according to their wishes as specified in their will. Before these assets can be distributed, there are several steps you, the personal representative, must take, including:
- Filing a petition for probate with the probate court to receive a Letter of Administration, the legal document that authorizes you to proceed
- Filing for probate
- Opening a bank account for the estate
- Notifying the beneficiaries named in the will
- Inventorying and appraising estate assets
- Paying the decedent’s debts
- Filing the decedent’s final income taxes
- Paying any necessary taxes
The length of this process is variable. Much depends on the size of the estate, whether the decedent owned multiple properties in other states or countries, whether all beneficiaries can be easily located, whether appraisals of certain assets are necessary, how easily debts and tax matters can be resolved, and whether the will is contested. Probate can be completed in 3 to 18 months, but may take years if the estate is high-net-worth or if complications arise.
Remember: Personal Representatives Are Fiduciaries
It is important to realize that once you assume the role of a personal representative, you are acting as a fiduciary. This means must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and will be held accountable for any mistakes or misdeeds. The court will supervise the probate process and, unless there are no other interested parties, you must be represented by a Florida attorney.
What Happens if the Deceased Died Without a Will (Intestate)
If the decedent died without a will, you have all the more need of a savvy estate administration lawyer. In such cases, a close relative, friend, or associate will ask the court to be appointed as the estate administrator. This individual performs the same duties as a personal representative with one notable exception.
Whereas the personal representative distributes assets as specified in the will, the estate administrator will follow the court’s directions, distributing the assets according to Florida’s intestate succession laws. These laws follow the decedent’s bloodline in a specific way, giving priority to spouses, children, and parents.
Probate Is Not Always Necessary in Florida
In Florida, small estates can go through probate in an expedited process or, in some cases, can avoid probate altogether. Below are the three types of proceedings that may occur after a death in the state.
- Formal Administration: Formal probate is required for estates in which assets exceed $75,000 or the deceased person has been dead for less than 2 years.
- Summary Administration: Summary administration permits an expedited process only if  the value of the estate does not exceed $75,000 or  the decedent’s death occurred more than 2 years ago (no matter what the estate’s size). The personal representative or any interested party may file a petition for summary administration. If the court finds the estate qualifies, it will release the deceased’s property to the beneficiaries.
- Disposition without Administration: In this process, there is no probate at all. Disposition without administration is only available for small estates that do not include any real estate property. In disposition without administration, whoever paid the deceased person’s final expenses (e.g. final medical costs, funeral expenses) will be reimbursed from the remaining estate assets as long as those assets are less than the final estate expenses or exempt from creditors.
How Are Contested Wills Handled
There are several reasons, both explicit and underlying, that wills may be contested. If the will you are dealing with is contested, you will be grateful you have an astute attorney at your side.
Grounds for contesting the validity of a will include claims that:
- The will was not executed properly
- The person creating the will (the testator) lacked mental (testamentary) capacity
- Another person exercised undue influence on the testator or coerced them into making the will
- The will was forged or otherwise fraudulent
Will contests are costly, time-consuming, and stressful. If the will in your case is contested, we will take over negotiations and use our diplomatic skills to resolve the issues. If the parties cannot agree to a reasonable settlement, however, we are fully prepared to take the matter to court.
What Verras Law Will Do for You
Spiro Verras is an accomplished legal advocate with an in-depth understanding of the law and the insight to address any concerns that arise relative to probate or other aspects of estate administration. He will provide you with guidance and clarity as you confront unfamiliar terms and concepts, and will always be looking out for your best interests. Whether you have been named as a personal representative or are a beneficiary of the deceased, he will be not only effective and efficient, and emotionally supportive as well.
Contact Our Experienced Estate Administration/Probate Attorney Today
Spiro Verras has a well-earned reputation as a first-rate attorney, respected by both clients and colleagues. He is keenly aware that your position settling an estate and translating legal jargon can be difficult and confusing, particularly when it takes place while you are grieving. Contact Verras Law now for the personalized, caring legal representation you deserve.
Verras Law provides probate and estate administration services for clients throughout Tampa Bay, Palm Harbor, and St. Petersburg communities.