Probate is a court proceeding used to supervise the transfer of estate assets to heirs and beneficiaries after the payment of valid and just debts of the deceased person. It also determines who is entitled to receive distributions of property according to the will — or, if a person dies without a will, according to the Florida laws of intestate succession.
At Meador & Johnson, P.A. we represent heirs, beneficiaries, executors, personal representatives and other interested parties in probate, estate administration and estate litigation matters. We can help you navigate a difficult time following the loss of a loved one.
A Loved One Has Died. What Do I Do Next?
The following steps are a start as you deal with the loss of a loved one:
Make funeral arrangements. First, determine whether there was a prepaid funeral expenses policy in effect. If the deceased served in the military, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to determine eligibility for benefits at 800-827-1000 or www.cem.va.gov. As part of the funeral arrangements, we recommend that you order two death certificates with cause of death and eight death certificates without cause of death. Typically, you will need to provide a death certificate to each party who requests it to distribute those assets.
Locate original estate documents. In Florida, you must deposit the will and any other relevant documents within 10 days after being notified of the death. We can assist you with properly depositing the will.
Contact key people. First, contact the personal representative, tax preparer and/or financial adviser, especially if IRAs are involved, to determine a course of action. You need to consider whether to contact an employer, Social Security and the VA to cease benefits or another source of distribution since those payments that are made post-death may need to be returned.
Gather important documents. The attorney handling your estate must have all of the estate documents, all paperwork that details the assets of the estate and all paperwork that details the creditors of the estate.
Avoid making big financial decisions. If you have lost your spouse, avoid making any major financial decisions such as selling a home or liquidating a financial portfolio. Make a list of all debts that are owed and gather the documentation, but do not pay any bills other than those that your attorney advises you to pay. All other debts may be disputed and should remain unpaid until verified. Consider filing a Social Security claim form if the deceased was 60 or older. Consider a spousal rollover for a 401(k) or IRA.
Insurance. Inform the life insurance company of the death and request the necessary paperwork to claim the life insurance proceeds. If you had health insurance benefits through the deceased’s employer, find out if you can retain those benefits. Confirm coverage for the deceased’s final medical expenses. Cancel any policies, services or subscriptions that may no longer be necessary.
Update your own estate planning documents and accounts. If you are affected by the death of your loved one, consider updating your own estate planning documents and change the beneficiaries designated on your life insurance policy, accounts and otherwise to reflect a new beneficiary designation.
What Is Probate?
Probate transfers and pays the assets and liabilities of an estate after a death. Only assets owned by the person in his or her individual name are affected. Other assets pass by operation of law (for example, property owned as joint tenants with rights of survivorship) or contract — beneficiary designations often control life insurance policies and retirement accounts.
In Florida, an attorney must represent anyone appointed to administer an estate — the personal representative. By statute, a Florida lawyer may charge 3 percent of the assets of the estate as legal fees. However, we offer flat-rate fees for dispositions without administration and summary administration. We cap fees at 3 percent of estate assets for formal proceedings without litigation.
The personal representative basically has three roles to fulfill: first, to marshal the assets of the estate; second, to pay any valid debts of the estate; and finally, to distribute the estate to beneficiaries.
Protecting Your Rights In Probate Litigation
The probate process can be complex. Sometimes, an individual raises a formal objection against the validity of a will or other aspect of the probate process if he or she feels there are legal grounds to do so.
One can legally contest a will for several reasons, but the most common are:
Mental incapacity of the testator of the will
Undue influence on the testator
Fraud or duress imposed upon the testator
When a dispute arises over an estate planning matter, it is important to have a strong legal advocate on your side. Our experienced attorneys can guide you through the red tape and legal hurdles, protecting your rights and interests.
We are committed to representing estate beneficiaries and administrators by applying our knowledge of Florida estate law to protect our clients’ rights and claims. With an eye on containing legal fees, we aim to resolve disputes efficiently and without litigation. If the dispute cannot be resolved through negotiation, however, we will meticulously prepare your case for trial and aggressively defend your interests throughout the process.