Being appointed personal representative of a probate estate is no small matter. A serious mistake could cost a lot of money, subject you to civil liability or, in extreme cases, land you in jail. A basic familiarity with the tasks that you will be called on to handle, however, could make a big difference in how well you perform your duties. It can also help you identify mismanagement or malfeasance when it is someone else, not you, who serves as personal representative.
Florida imposes a general 12-month deadline for closing probate. The minimum time period is three months, since that is how long creditors are permitted to make claims against the estate. Although the average estate is closed within six months, there is no guarantee that your estate will be closed within that time. If the estate is small, or under certain other circumstances, you can use summary administration to expedite probate proceedings.
Initiating the Probate Process
Any “interested party” (someone with a tangible stake in the outcome of the proceedings) can initiate probate by filing the death certificate and the will with the local circuit court, completing some paperwork and paying a filing fee. The court will then appoint you personal representative and issue you letters of administration, which empowers you to deal with third parties, such as banks, on behalf of the estate.
Creditors of the estate are first in line to be paid, and they must be satisfied before beneficiaries can receive anything. To notify creditors that the estate is undergoing probate proceedings, Florida estate law requires you to publish a notice in the local newspaper and to exercise due diligence to track down creditors and notify them directly.
You are obligated to pay valid claims, but you are also obligated to investigate claims and to refuse to pay invalid claims. You must also satisfy the IRS by filing the decedent’s last tax return. In some cases you may even have to file an estate tax return.
Managing Estate Assets
You are required to manage estate assets with care and prudence. You must:
- Take a complete inventory of all estate assets. You must diligently discover and locate all assets, including even intangible assets such as copyrights and accounts receivable.
- Have all estate assets adequately appraised so that their value can be reliably determined.
- Safeguard and maintain all estate assets until they are distributed. This might include, for example, placing jewelry in a safe deposit box and punctually paying insurance premiums (out of estate assets).
- Sell estate assets and collect the proceeds, as directed in the will and by the probate court.
- Distribute all assets to beneficiaries as directed by the probate court.
- Ask the probate court to formally close the estate.
Contact Lorenzo Law TodayIf you have been selected personal representative of someone’s estate, or if you are concerned about the performance of the personal representative on an estate in which you have an interest, contact trusts and estates attorney Jose Lorenzo by telephoning (305) 999-5411, completing our online contact form, or visiting one of our offices in Coral Gables and Ft. Lauderdale. We handle cases throughout the entire state of Florida.