Florida Probate and Trust Administration
Any person who is designated as personal representative for the estate of a loved one should seek reputable legal representation. Few people fully understand that under Florida law they can be held personally liable for failure to administer the estate in a proper manner. The goal is to fully protect the wishes of the deceased as well as the rights of the beneficiaries and the value of the estate.
Because each and every Florida estate must be administered in one way or another, it is essential that personal representatives secure appropriate legal assistance in determining and distributing assets payable to the estate and to beneficiaries. All debts of the estate must be paid as well as any taxes and administration costs. Next, a determination of what the estate owes its creditors will be necessary. Many designated personal representatives find this job overwhelming—especially in larger or more complicated estates—therefore generally the best course of action is to ask for help.
Duties of Personal Representatives
Locate the Will
While most people are aware they have been designated as personal representative in the will of a loved one, others are surprised when they are informed. There is an entire checklist of important duties involved in being a personal representative, generally more when the estate is sizeable. The will must first be located and filed with the probate court, and although this sounds easy enough, wills have been known to be hidden in some very odd places. Hopefully there is an attorney to consult who has a copy of the will on file, making this requirement much simpler.
Further Duties of the Personal Representative
Following the location of the will, the personal representative is required to file with the court for formal confirmation of the title and accompanying duties. Next, the personal representative—or the probate lawyer retained—will mail notices to every person named in the decedent’s will, notifying them of any potential probate hearings. The notice will also be published in a newspaper where the decedent lived in order to allow creditors to have knowledge of the upcoming hearing. If the family of the decedent requires support during this time, the personal representative will ask the court’s permission to provide such support.
Estate Inventory and Objection to Invalid Claims
A complete inventory of the estate’s assets is required next, and you will have sixty days in which to locate and inventory all the decedent’s assets then file the inventory with the court. This inventory is generally less concerned with routine furniture or furnishings, dealing primarily with vehicles, bank accounts, real estate, any valuable jewelry or collections and stocks. Any invalid claims against the estate must be formally objected to as well as claims for life insurance benefits, Social Security, V.A. or Medicare benefits prepared.
Completing the Personal Representative Duties
Depending on the specific terms of the Will and the amount of the decedent’s debts, assets may need to be sold in order to fully cover all creditor claims. When the estate’s debts and taxes have been settled, the personal representative or their probate attorney will file a report with the court which accounts for all income received and payments made on behalf of the decedent’s estate. Quite likely the judge will then authorize the personal representative to divide the remaining assets among those named in the will. The estate is closed and the probate process is complete.
Administration of a Living Trust
Although the person who created the Living Trust is generally the trustee while alive, following their death or incapacity, the successor trustee takes over and is responsible for the following duties:
- Protection and preservation of all assets.
- Administration of the trust in an impartial manner which takes the best interests of the beneficiaries into consideration.
- Investing trust property and assets wisely and properly.
- Separation of trust and personal assets.
- Preparing and providing accounting of the trust to any beneficiaries.
- Filing tax forms and paying any taxes owed.
- Distribution of any income received on behalf of the trust.
- Handling trust expenses.
Final Thoughts on Probate and Trust Administration
Should an out-of-state resident who owns Florida real estate pass, Florida probate may be necessary in order to bestow the property to the beneficiaries, and this is known as ancillary probate. Even for those who have a fairly broad knowledge of finance or experience in finance, trust administration can be overwhelming. The complexities of these duties can be significantly lessened through obtaining the services of a qualified probate attorney who will ensure the trust is administered in accordance with Florida Law.
Let us help you determine the best Probate and Trust strategy that will work for your particular situation. We offer a FREE initial consultation that will answer many of the additional questions not covered here on our web site. Call us in Jacksonville at (904) 900-2750 or toll free anywhere in Florida at 1-866-306-3550, or you can fill in and submit the form below.