Tampa Probate Attorney
Probate means to prove a will. It is the process conducted under the auspices of the court by which a person’s estate is wound down after their death – debts and taxes are paid, claims are resolved, and portions of the estate are distributed in accordance with the terms of the will. Although conducted under court supervision, the bulk of the work in probate is carried out by the person named in the will or appointed by the court to serve as executor or personal representative of the estate. Often, this thankless task is thrust upon a grieving spouse or adult child. The estate executor might be willing to take on this role and be committed to doing their best, but they are likely inexperienced in many of the complex tasks associated with probate. Nevertheless, it is important that probate get done right, for the sake of the heirs as well as to avoid personal liability of the executor for mistakes.
The Tampa probate attorneys at Strategic Counsel Law Group assist estate executors, heirs and beneficiaries in the multitude of tasks associated with probate in Florida. With decades of experience handling Florida probate matters, you can count on our team to guide you through the probate process so the estate can be settled smoothly and successfully with a minimum of time and expense to the estate. Learn more about Florida probate below, and contact our firm if you need assistance with probate in the Tampa area.
What Happens in Probate?
The estate’s executor has a long list of tasks to complete as part of the probate process. Some of these jobs require specialized legal or financial expertise. It’s up to the executor to know when a job is beyond his or her capabilities and to call in professional assistance. It is expected that professional assistance will be required, and the costs of attorneys, accountants, etc. can be paid for out of the probate estate.
Here are some of the major tasks associated with a Florida probate:
- Identify and marshal all probate assets, which might include real estate, bank accounts, life insurance, annuities, IRAs, and items of personal property
- Take possession of property
- Notify creditors who might have claims against the estate
- Conduct an inventory of the estate and prepare an information report
- Manage, invest, maintain or sell property as appropriate
- Pay bills and debts owed by the estate
- Settle or pay valid claims against the estate
- Challenge questionable claims against the estate
- Pay taxes owed by the estate
- Distribute property to heirs and beneficiaries according to the terms of the will
- File estate tax returns as needed, including a final return
Can Probate Be Avoided in Florida?
The costs of probate can take a chunk out of the estate – as much as five percent. Probate can also take a year or more to complete. For these reasons, people often seek to avoid probate if they can. Thoughtful estate planning can minimize the probate estate, and in some cases, estates can be administered outside of a formal probate proceeding.
Not all property belonging to an individual is included in the probate estate. Property that is jointly titled or held in joint bank accounts passes to the joint title holder without going through probate. Likewise, assets that have beneficiary designations, such as life insurance policies or retirement accounts, pass to the beneficiary outside of probate. IRAs and bank accounts with “payable on death” (POD) or “transfer on death” (TOD) provisions also avoid probate. An experienced probate attorney can advise you on the proper way to hold property or other assets if your goal is to keep them as non-probate property.
Importantly, assets that have been transferred into a trust do not have to go through probate. Probate avoidance is one of the chief reasons for creating trusts as a central piece of estate planning.
Probate is known as formal administration. There is also an easier process known as summary administration that applies when the estate consists of nonexempt property valued at $75,000 or less, all debts have been paid, and no creditors object to the summary process. Also, if more than two years have passed since the death and no estate administration has occurred, then summary administration might be available. Reducing the value of the estate with nonprobate assets could bring the estate into the quicker and easier summary administration process instead of going through formal administration.
Florida also recognizes a process known as the disposition of personal property without administration. This process is available if there is no real property to distribute and all assets are exempt from creditors, so long as the value of the non-exempt personal property is less than the amount of preferred funeral expenses combined with reasonable and necessary hospital and medical bills incurred in the final 60 days of the deceased’s end of life. Our Tampa probate lawyers will advise you on the process that applies in your case and provide whatever assistance is necessary to settle the estate efficiently and effectively.
Help With Probate in Tampa
For help with probate and related matters in Tampa, call the Strategic Counsel Law Group at 813-286-1700 to speak with a team of compassionate, dedicated and hard-working Tampa probate lawyers.