When a loved one passes away, the circumstances are emotional and stressful for anyone. The last thing on your mind is the practical and legal steps that must take place during this time. I tell everyone that you should take a breath, take care of putting your loved one to rest, grieve, spend time with family and THEN contact an attorney —there are very few circumstances where dealing with the legal aspects can’t wait a week or so. Sometimes a quick phone call with your attorney can give you the peace of mind you need to not rush out to a meeting with an attorney when you really aren’t up for dealing with business yet.
Meet with a probate attorney.
The Personal Representative named in the Will should choose the attorney —often the attorney who did the Estate Planning is still practicing and is a good first step if that isn’t possible ask for a referral from your friends —the “yellow pages” isn’t always the best stop. If you cannot get a referral then get online and read those reviews! It’s important that you find an attorney who can evaluate your circumstances and give you a game plan that you understand. You must feel comfortable with your attorney. The advice of competent counsel can save a lot of frustration and running down dead ends.
If you are advised that a Probate is needed it must be initiated before anyone can begin selling, transferring, or using estate property. It will not happen spontaneously someone must initiate the probate process. It is my advice that you hire an attorney —there is no Probate circumstance that I personally would ever recommend someone do without an attorney. While an attorney is not required for a Summary Probate in Florida it is a process that will go much more efficiently if you are represented by counsel. In Florida, an attorney MUST represent the Estate if a Formal Probate is needed. An experienced attorney can evaluate your case during your initial consultation and tell you which type of Probate if any, your circumstances dictate.
Take Inventory and Pay Debts
The probate process starts with a Petition and then publication to alert creditors of the action, followed by an inventory of all assets (real estate, bank accounts, investment accounts, etc.), which will need to be filed with the probate court and then ultimately payment of the Estate’s obligations.
At any point in the probate process, conflicts or legal challenges might arise. These will necessarily extend the amount of time it takes to settle the estate and will usually result in more estate expenses. Again, a qualified probate attorney can help you navigate this stressful piece of the process.
Once all conflicts are resolved, estate debts are paid, it’s time to begin distributing assets. If there’s no Will, state intestacy laws will determine who the inheritors are.
Close the Estate
Finally, after everything is distributed your attorney can Petition the court to close the estate. Once approved, the Personal Representative will be discharged and the Estate will be closed.