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How Do I Distribute Assets After a Family Member Dies?

How Do I Distribute Assets After a Family Member Dies?
Estate Planning and Probate
Jason Neufeld
April 19, 2024

The moments immediately following the loss of a loved one are overwhelming to the point that it is almost impossible to focus on anything else. Unfortunately, death initiates a series of estate-related responsibilities that need to be resolved. Settling debt, filing taxes, claim paperwork, and figuring out what the deceased assets include, are all tasks that require attention.  

At Elder Needs Law, we have helped many Florida families navigate these challenging times. There are ways ahead. In this article, we take a look at what considerations matter the most as you try to honor your loved one's wishes. 

If you're uncertain where to begin, this guide covers key considerations so you can honor your loved one’s wishes after an estate plan falters or even in situations where people die without a will.

What Assets Must Have Florida Probate Court Oversight?

Modern estate planning centers on avoiding court proceedings through probate-avoidance tools. Probate is the court-supervised process for transferring assets after someone dies. It involves paperwork, delays, and legal fees.

 To avoid these hassles, people set up estate plans, transferring assets automatically at death through tools like trusts or joint accounts. Skipping probate allows faster, less costly, and more private asset distribution for heirs.

Yet some assets inevitably get tied up in this bureaucratic process unless properly addressed in advance.

Under Florida law, “probate assets” refer to those solely owned by the decedent without built-in transfer provisions. Lacking clear instructions, these properties require probate court validation before changing hands. 

Common examples include:

  • Solely owned real estate – No joint tenant or transfer on death deed
  • Cars/boats/RVs titled only to the deceased
  • Bank/brokerage accounts held individually
  • Investments like stocks/bonds owned outright
  • Personal possessions like jewelry and art
  • Wrongly titled assets meant to avoid probate

These types of probate assets must pass through the rigid court process before reaching rightful heirs under state law.

What Assets Sidestep the Probate Process?

Meanwhile, so-called “non-probate” assets utilize legal transfer methods not involving courts.  These include:

  • Joint bank/brokerage accounts – Automatically passes to surviving co-owners
  • Real estate held jointly with rights of survivorship or subject to a lady bird deed.
  • Accounts/investments ‘payable on death’ to named beneficiaries
  • Retirement plans, life insurance, etc. with properly listed beneficiaries
  • “Payable on death” assets like cars and titled personal property
  • Living trust assets controlled by trustees

With the right titling arrangements made in advance, well over half a Florida estate can safely bypass probate. Doing so allows families prompt access rather than waiting on case approval.

Of course, keeping beneficiary statuses and joint ownership rights updated remains essential, even for non-probate assets. Outdated designations or titles can still mean losing control after death if heirs aren’t careful. A good estate planning attorney can help control the distribution of assets upon your death.

How Do Beneficiaries Access Non-Probate Assets?

Fortunately, inheriting non-probate assets proves more straightforward for heirs after confirming beneficiary statuses. Typical transfer processes include:

  • Joint Bank Accounts, Real Estate, Etc. – Surviving co-owners automatically receive the deceased’s ownership records.
  • POD/TOD Accounts and Assets – Beneficiaries access funds/property directly from custodians without court oversight.
  • Retirement Plans and Life Insurance – Claim procedures transfer inherited balances/payouts according to beneficiary enrollments.

Still, coordinating with employers, financial institutions, utility companies, etc. takes effort. Our attorneys help beneficiaries efficiently take control and consolidate inherited assets. 

How to Distribute Probate Assets Under Florida Law

If an estate does include Florida probate assets, court-appointed personal representatives must validate them through proper legal procedures before distribution. This involves:

  • Providing Required Notices — Heirs, creditors, and other parties receive court notifications to identify interested parties.
  • Paying Final Debts — Settle any unpaid debts and bills the decedent incurred while living. Creditors get paid before heirs inherit.
  • Passing Exempt Assets — Certain assets not subject to estate creditors transfer directly to the surviving spouse (if applicable).
  • Distributing Residual Assets — Any remaining estate value gets passed to heirs named in the will or to blood relatives per Florida's intestacy laws if no will exists.

Once all fiduciary duties are complete, the court audits procedures before closing probate and distributing bequeathed assets free and clear. Consulting knowledgeable local probate counsel assists executors in distributing estate assets correctly.

Our Florida Probate Attorney Handle Court Processes

Losing someone close sparks immense heartache. Unfortunately, financial loose ends compound the frustration and delays for heirs. Streamlining matters provides needed closure.

Consulting probate attorneys helps greatly in ensuring the deceased’s assets are all smoothly transferred to the proper heirs with no unnecessary taxes or expenses. We can handle court processes on your behalf while you focus on what matters most.

Here at Elder Needs Law, our attorneys assist families with estate and probate processes using compassionate guidance only local practitioners can provide. Please contact us for personalized assistance settling your loved one’s estate or creating plans to transfer your wealth securely later. We craft inheritance plans suited to what Florida allows and aligned with your unique priorities.

Jason Neufeld

Jason Neufeld is the Founder and Managing Partner of Elder Needs Law, a Florida estate planning and elder law firm he created in 2017. With more than 15 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including Medicaid planning, estate planning, elder law, probate, Medicare, and life insurance.

Jason received his Juris Doctor from the University of Miami — School of Law and is a member of the Florida Bar and the Broward County Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named a Rising Star and Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers and among the Florida Legal Elite by Florida Trend in 2024.

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