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What Happens with My Assets Once I Die?


What is an estate?

In general terms, estate is defined as the assets of a deceased individual (decedent). Probate is the legal procedure by which ownership of the assets of a deceased individual is transferred to his or her heirs. It is a court supervised process that identifies and gathers the assets of a decedent, pays any outstanding debt, and distributes the balance of the assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries. Chapters 731-735 of the Florida Statutes define and regulate probate in Florida. The proceeding itself is regulated by the Florida Probate Rules.

Probate assets are those assets that were owned solely by the decedent such as bank accounts and life insurance policies, among others. During the probate process, the estate administrator manages the assets of the estate. When the decedent has a will in place, the administrator is generally appointed in said document. In the case of intestate estates, the competent court appoints an administrator. The court located in the county where the decedent resided is generally the court with jurisdiction over the estate.

How is it distributed?

Florida law contemplates three different ways in which the assets of a decedent:

  1. Disposition without administration – In cases where the decedent did not own any real estate assets and the expenses of the estate are higher than the assets, it is not required that the estate undergoes probate.
  2. Summary administration – This process is applicable when one of the following applies:
    1. The death occurred less than two years before the process is initiated; or
    2. The estate’s value is less than $75,000
  3. Formal Administration – In case neither of the above circumstances apply to the estate in question, it is necessary to initiate a formal administration process. The proceeding is usually initiated by the estate administrator appointed in the decedent’s will, if any, or by any other interested party such as an heir or descendant of the decedent, who requests to be appointed as administrator.

The court then issues a letter of administration, giving authority to the personal representative or administrator of the estate to settle the debts of the estate and manage the assets, always under the supervision of the court. At this phase of the proceeding, the personal representative takes inventory of the assets and pays any taxes or any other debt or amount due. The final step is the distribution to the heirs. For those estates where there is a will in place, the distribution is made in accordance with the provisions of the will. If there is no will in place the balance of the assets to the heirs in accordance with Chapter 732 of the Florida Statute.

One of the duties of the representative is to provide the court with an accounting related to the management of the assets, payments made and the distribution plan.

Once the distribution is completed, and this accounting together with receipts for all expenses and debt paid has been provided to the court, the representative requests the closure of the estate.

Probate proceedings can be long and complex and the assistance of a Fort Lauderdale probate & guardianship attorney is often required. If you have any questions or need assistance in a probate proceeding, contact Joyce A. Julian, P.A.  at 954-467-6656 or visit us online to schedule a free consultation.


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