Apfelbaum Law can assist and guide you through the administration of an estate after a person passes away, whether or not that person had a will. The attorneys at Apfelbaum Law can help you through the probate process and assist in probate disputes.
Probate is a court-supervised process of finding and collecting the assets of a deceased person (called the “decedent”), paying the decedent’s debts, and distributing the remainder of the assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries. Some examples of assets include, among others, bank accounts in which a decedent may have an interest; a life insurance policy or retirement account payable to the decedent’s estate rather than a specific individual; or real estate in which a decedent may have an interest.
If an individual dies without a will (this is called “intestate”), the State of Florida distributes his or her assets to “heirs”—people related to the deceased and described in the Florida statute governing distribution of probate assets of those who die intestate.
Florida has a list of rules regarding who inherits what under which circumstances. In general, assets are first distributed to the decedent’s surviving spouse, if there is one. If not, assets typically go to the decedent’s children, and are divided among them if the decedent had more than one surviving child (under certain circumstances, assets may be divided between the surviving spouse and the decedent’s descendants). If no surviving spouse or child can be found, assets would be passed to the decedent’s parents, siblings, or more distant relatives, in that order. There are exceptions for things like homestead property, but the asset reallocation process for intestate estates generally proceeds in that order.
Obviously, many people would rather make their own directive for how their assets will be distributed—commonly known as writing a will. A will is a document, signed by the decedent and witnesses, which meets the requirements of Florida law. In his or her will, the decedent can name beneficiaries of probate assets, and also designate a personal representative (also known as an executor) of his or her choosing to administer the probate estate.
Although will-making kits are readily available in many stores and online, hiring a Florida probate lawyer can help you make sure everything is prepared the way you want—and that you haven’t missed anything. While writing your own will may work in simple situations—say, if you leave everything to one person—most wills are more complicated or need to include specific clauses you may not address otherwise. An attorney can help make sure you haven’t forgotten anything, and sometimes even help you avoid potential problems for your heirs.
When preparing to meet with your Florida probate attorney, you should make a list of what you want in your will—a list of your assets and a list of your heirs and what you wish to leave each of them. If you have questions or concerns, write those down as well.
When you meet with your Florida probate lawyer, he or she will go over the list with you, asking any important questions. Your attorney may remind you of assets you overlooked, forgot about, or didn’t even consider as assets. You may also be asked if you have children, and if so, if you have selected someone to be their guardian, in the event the child is a minor or incapacitated, if you and the child’s other parent were both deceased.
If you have questions pertaining to probate or about any potential legal matter, contact Apfelbaum Law for a consultation.