What Is Probate?
Probate is the legal process that occurs after a person (“the decedent”) passes away. It is the administration of the “estate” (the sum of the decedent’s assets). Probate has two main objectives: (1) the debts of the estate are settled, and (2) ownership of property is transferred to heirs and beneficiaries. The process includes proving a will is valid (where one exists), identifying and appraising the decedent’s property, and paying outstanding debts and taxes. If property remains after resolving valid creditor claims, it is distributed in accordance with local state law. Probate property includes real state, personal property, as well as financial instruments (stocks, bonds, ownership in business).
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Stages of Probate Litigation
Probate litigation in Florida has 5-stages:
- Stage #1: Filing The Petition. Probate litigation is instituted by: (1) an executor (or personal representation) named in the will applying for the court to validate the will; or (2) when there is no will, a person petitions the court to be named executor.
- Stage #2: Notice To Creditors and Beneficiaries. The personal representative – typically through an attorney – notices anyone with an interest in the estate (creditors and beneficiaries).
- Stage #3: Payment of The Estate’s Debts, Taxes, and Expenses. A decedent’s debts do not disappear – they must be paid before you inherit any property. This may include credit cards, mortgages, back taxes, outstanding bills, and attorney fees.
- Stage #4: Legal Title in Property Transfers In Accordance With Will And/Or Local Law. Once the estate settles its debts, the personal representative petitions the court to transfer remaining assets to beneficiaries.
- Stage #5: Closing the Probate Estate. Executor prepares a final account and petition for final distribution. A hearing is scheduled with notice to interested parties, creditors are paid and assets are formally distributed. A “closing statement” or “closing affidavit” establishing that all assets were properly distributed.
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