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Probate And Trust Settlement Lawyer Serving  Largo, Clearwater & St. Petersburg FL

The passing of a parent, spouse, or an elder loved one can leave you in a daze. On top of the heavy emotions you feel during this time, you may also be filled with questions regarding your beloved’s assets and properties. Who owns them now? How are the titles and legal documents transferred to the heirs? What if someone else claims them?

If your beloved already created an estate plan before they died, you are fortunate because that estate plan can answer many of your questions and make the transfer of the estate much easier. The estate plan likely consists of a will or a trust that legally expresses your loved one’s instructions.

But whether or not there is an estate plan in place, you will need some form of estate administration to officially settle the legal and financial affairs of the deceased (or in legal terms, the decedent).

Let’s discuss in general the settling of a will (probate) and the administration of a trust. If you would like advice that’s more suited to your circumstances, talk to attorney Ted Schofner of The Schofner Law Firm. He is ready to provide you with knowledgeable, case-specific guidance.

Probate: Administering A Will, Or Settling Without A Will

Probate is the court-supervised process of gathering the decedent’s assets, paying their debts, and distributing their assets to their beneficiaries. The terms “probate” and “estate administration” are often used interchangeably. You might hear these words when dealing with your loved one’s Last Will, or if your loved one died without a will.

When a person dies without a will, court supervision is necessary to ensure that the decedent’s estate is distributed according to the law and that their creditors, if any, are properly paid.

But if your loved one made a will that already specifies the settling of these affairs, you may be wondering why the court still needs to supervise the process. This is because during probate, the validity of the will is determined. The court will also officially appoint the Personal Representative who is named in the will, holding them legally responsible for administrating the estate. In addition, the court ensures that the assets described in the will were indeed owned by the decedent, and that the beneficiaries can legally accept these assets.

Probate Assets And Non-Probate Assets

Note that not all of your loved one’s assets may be required to undergo probate. This process applies only to probate assets, which are those that the decedent solely owned at the time of death, or those that were owned by multiple persons but have no automatic successor.

Meanwhile, non-probate assets – those that do not go through probate – are typically the ones that already have an automatic successor or a designated beneficiary. For example, surviving spouses are normally considered as automatic owners if they jointly owned a property with their deceased spouse. Another example is if your loved one had a life insurance policy or retirement account that is payable to someone in your family.

Types Of Probate/Estate Administration In Florida

Probate laws vary by state, and in Florida, there are three ways to administer an estate with regards to probate:

  • Disposition without administration. This involves no probate at all. It applies only when the decedent did not leave any real estate, when their assets are exempt from creditor claims, or when their assets are less than their final expenses.
    In such a case, if you wish to claim what you are entitled to (whether according to a will or according to law), you will have to file for “Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration” with a Florida circuit court.
  • Summary administration. This is commonly referred to as a probate shortcut. It applies if your loved one died more than two years ago, or if the probate assets are less than $75,000.
    To request for this shortened process, the will Personal Representative or any legal heir must file a “Petition for Summary Administration.” If the court determines that the estate is fit for summary administration, it will issue an order to release the assets to those who inherit them.
  • Formal administration. This is ‘regular’ probate. In this process, the court appoints a Personal Representative (executor/administrator) of the estate. This representative will then have authority to conduct probate tasks such as inventory of assets, payment of debts and taxes, and distribution to beneficiaries. Any objections must be brought to the court.

When probate is required, it is best to proceed with an attorney’s assistance. An estate administration lawyer can work with the personal representative to help iron out potential conflicts and make the process much more efficient. If you yourself have been appointed as the personal representative, you may consult with a reliable attorney in performing your probate tasks.

Probate usually takes between six months to as long as two years. It is also known to incur costs such as court fees and professional fees. Further, the process is transparent to the public. These are some reasons why many families opt to avoid probate as much as legally possible. In many cases, parents and seniors plan their estate using a trust instead of a will, as trusts do not require probate.

Trust Administration/Trust Settlement

Even though trusts can be settled privately, without the involvement of the court, there are still many tasks needed in order to settle the estate. These include:

  • Contacting and informing all beneficiaries
  • Identifying and gathering the trustor’s assets, both principal and income
  • Notifying potential creditors
  • Filing and paying taxes
  • Distributing the assets to beneficiaries, complying strictly with trust provisions.

If your loved one had set up a trust, they would also have designated a trustee who will now be responsible for accomplishing the above tasks. In real-world situations, even when trustees are reliable friends or family, they are often short of time, resources, or know-how to fully manage the trust. They might need, for example, accounting assistance and financial advice.

A trustee might especially want to work with a lawyer to ensure that their management of the trust is compliant with the law and legally sound. If your family wishes to provide legal support to the trustee, or if you yourself are a trustee needing legal guidance, enlist only an attorney who is proficient in trust administration.

Contact The Schofner Law Firm In Florida

Attorney Ted Schofner of The Schofner Law Firm is a trusted ally of Tampa Bay families dealing with estate administration and trust settlement. He has been working in this field for two decades, helping Floridians achieve a smooth and cost-efficient transfer of estates.

Mr. Schofner can assist your family even if your loved one’s will or trust was not created with our firm. See how you can benefit from his experienced service. Contact The Schofner Law Firm today at 1-800-891-9996 or through our online contact form.

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Mr. Schofner is licensed and admitted to the Bars of the State of Florida, Illinois, and the District of Columbia.

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