Residents of Fort Pierce and the surrounding areas of the Treasure Coast often have questions about the probate process. In Florida, there are two types of probate administrations: Formal Administration and Summary Administration. There is a non-court supervised administration known as “Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration,” but this applies only in a few, limited circumstances. A Florida probate attorney can help guide you to the appropriate means of probate administration for your situation.

Formal administration is the most common type of probate used in Florida. In this process, the court closely supervises the collection and distribution of the deceased person’s assets. Formal administration has three stages:

• Opening the estate. A Petition of Administration and related documents are filed with the relevant probate court, and a Personal Representative (also called an executor) is appointed to oversee the administration of the estate. The judge reviews the file and issues Florida Letters of Administration for the Personal Representative.
• Administering the Estate. This is the most difficult and time-consuming part of the process. In this step, the Personal Representative finds and values the estate’s assets, tracks down and pays the estate’s creditors, and distributes assets to beneficiaries. The Personal Representative should also collect on debts owed the deceased and, if necessary, continue the decedent’s business. This is usually important if there is a “reasonable means of preserving the value of a business” owned by the deceased. Additionally, the Personal Representative may have many other jobs before his or her duties are complete, but a Florida probate attorney would be able to help navigate these waters.
• Closing the estate. The Florida probate estate can be closed when the time for creditors to make claims has expired, debts and expenses have been paid, and assets are ready for distribution to beneficiaries. The estate’s Florida probate attorney will file a petition with the court, and provide additional information if requested to do so by the judge. Once the judge is satisfied, he or she will issue an Order of Discharge, and the Personal Representative is released from their responsibilities to the estate.

Summary Administration is sometimes used instead of Formal Administration. Under Florida law, there are two ways an estate can qualify for summary administration: (1) if the decedent has been dead for more than two years, or (2) if the entire value of the estate is less than $75,000.

Summary Administration begins with filing a petition in the relevant probate court. It may be filed by any beneficiary, or the person nominated as Personal Representative in the decedent’s will. However, if the decedent had a surviving spouse, he or she must also sign the petition.

The petition should include details about how the estate is eligible for Summary Administration, a list of assets and their values, information about creditors and debts of the estate, and a plan for distributing assets. Assuming the decedent has been dead for less than two years, all creditor claims must be dealt with before the order of summary administration can be issued. However, when the decedent has been dead for more than two years, this is not an issue as Florida statutes limit claims on estates to a two-year time period. If the court is satisfied with the petition, it issues an order and the assets are distributed. A Personal Representative will not be appointed and it is always important to contact a Florida probate attorney to assist in making sure that this process is handled smoothly.

If you have questions or concerns about wills, estates, probate law, or other Florida legal services, please contact Apfelbaum Law for a consultation. We can be reached at 772-236-4009, or [email protected]