Of the various types of Florida probate proceedings, formal administration is the most common. Like any probate matter, Florida probate administration can vary depending on the size of the estate, the decedent’s asset profile, the number of creditors, and whether any disputes are involved. Here’s ten steps that may be involved in formal administration:
- Deposit of wills with court. By law, a custodian of a Florida last will and testament must deposit it with the clerk of the appropriate court within ten days of learning of the testator’s death.
- Petition for administration. Any interested person may file a petition for formal administration of a testate or intestate estate. An “interested person” is any person who may reasonably expect to be affected by the outcome of the proceedings. Courts typically interpret this definition broadly.
- Appointment of personal representative. The position of executor/executrix is known in Florida as a personal representative and is appointed by court order. The judge gives the personal representative authority to act for a decedent by granting letters of administration.
- Petition to Open Safe Deposit Box. If the decedent’s will cannot be found among the decedent’s personal effects, it may be necessary to file a petition to authorize access to the decedent’s safe deposit box.
- Validity of the will. A will may be admitted to probate without further proof if it is self-proved and executed in accordance with Florida law. A will that is not self-proved may be admitted to probate upon the oath of any attesting witness to it. If the will cannot be proved by either of those means, it may be admitted to probate only upon the oath of the personal representative nominated by the will or upon the oath of any person having no interest in the will. The person must swear that he believes the writing to be the true last will of the decedent.
- Control of the decedent’s assets. The personal representative manages the assets before and during distribution. This includes collecting and inventorying the assets and determining whether to transfer property to or leave property with the persons presumptively entitled to it under the will.
- Interim accounting. Before filing the final accounting, the personal representative has the option of filing one or more interim accountings with the court, but is not required to do so unless the court decides to order it.
- Final accounting. After completing administration, the personal representative must make an accounting of the actions undertaken in administering the estate. This must include receipts for all transactions and a list of any disbursements, income, compensation paid, etc. Once a final accounting has been filed the court then holds a formal hearing to approve the accounting, unless all interested parties consent to waive final accounting. An interested person may file an objection to any part of the accounting within 30 days of being served with notice of the accounting.
- Closing of the estate. When everything required has been done, the personal representative files a petition for discharge of the estate, along with a proposed plan of final distribution of assets of the estate. When distribution of the estate’s assets is complete, the personal representative then files evidence of distribution and evidence that creditors’ claims have been disposed of. The court will then enter an order discharging the personal representative.
- Reopening of the estate. A court may revoke an order of discharge and reopen an estate if additional property is discovered or if the court determines that further administration necessary for any reason, including fraud.
So there’s the Florida formal probate administration process in a nutshell. Of course, not every step applies to every probate. Questions regarding the steps necessary in your case should be directed to a Florida probate attorney.