Can You Probate a Will Without a Lawyer in Florida?
In all but the simplest estates, Florida law actually requires a probate attorney to assist the personal representative (executor) through the probate court process . A will is a profound matter that represents your loved one's legacy, and the probate process is a complex system that requires a nuanced understanding of the specifics to ensure that the testator's wishes (the wishes of the person whose will it is) are honored and upheld. To accomplish this primary goal, working closely with a dedicated Florida estate planning attorney from the outset is well advised.
Probate a Will: The Probate Process
If you've lost a loved one in the state of Florida, and you find yourself responsible for probating the will, it is a good idea to have a general understanding of the process. If you are in possession of a will, you are required to file it with the appropriate circuit court within the first ten days of learning of the testator's death. From here, the court will make a determination regarding the will's validity. While smaller estates may not require probate, estates that exceed $75,000 in value do. Probate is a court process in which assets are transferred from the testator to whomever they delineate in their will – or to their family members (in accordance with state law) if they have no will.
Probate a Will
The probate process begins when you, as the executor nominated in the will (or as another interested party), request that the circuit court appoint you as the estate's personal representative. The following generally applies:
- The probate proceeds forward in the county where the testator was living at the time of death.
- Any heirs who would have inherited by state law (had there not been a will) are notified and, thus, given an opportunity to object.
- The court validates the will.
- The court issues a Letters of Administration that gives you – as the personal representative – the authority to proceed with settling the estate in accordance with the will.
Validation of the Will
To prove that the will in question is valid, the court may have the witnesses to the will provide statements under oath that testify to its validity (or lack thereof). Some wills, however, are deemed self-proving, which means that the witnesses who signed off on them when they were created did so in the presence of notary publics. In these instances, submitting the will to the court suffices.
Once the probate process begins in earnest, your job focuses on accomplishing all the following:
- To gather and inventory the testator's assets
- To address all debts and taxes owed
- To ultimately distribute what remains to those named as beneficiaries in the will
- To submit a final accounting of the process to the court that clarifies what the testator's estate contained, how these assets were managed by you, and your plan for distributing them in accordance with the will's directions to the named beneficiaries.
If anyone objects to this final accounting, they have the right to do so through the court.
After everything is said and done, you will file your receipts, which are called evidence, with the court and will request that the court close the estate. When things go smoothly, the entire process typically takes from about six months to a year, and when they do not, it can take much longer.
How an Estate Planning Attorney Can Help When You Probate a Will
Your accomplished Florida estate planning attorney will help to ensure that the probate process proceeds smoothly and in accordance with your loved one's wishes, which is the bottom line when it comes to wills and probate. The probate process can leave personal administrators like you concerned about all the following:
- Your ability to uphold your lost loved one's intentions
- Your ability to ensure that the process moves forward as effectively and efficiently as possible
- Your ability to avoid as much legal red tape and expense as possible
Fortunately, a trusted estate planning attorney can help you with each of these. In fact, you can leave all the following critical tasks (as applicable) in the capable hands of your attorney:
- Calculating and paying inheritance taxes
- Addressing the matter of estate and income taxes that come due during the probate process
- Identifying your loved one's full range of assets
- Hiring appraisals for any real property involved
- Collecting proceeds from any life insurance policies
- Opening and overseeing a checking account for the estate
- Paying all the estate's debts and final bills
- Making the final distributions in accordance with the will (after a final accounting)
- Preparing and filing all the necessary court documents
- Having assets retitled in the names of their beneficiaries
Honor your loved one's wishes and protect your legal rights as a beneficiary by working with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney from the start.