A Step-by-Step Guide to Obtaining Letters of Administration in Florida
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
March 31, 2022
Are you a family member or personal representative of someone who has recently passed away in Florida? If so, you may be wondering what the next steps are in order to administer their estate. There is a lot to know, which is why we created this Post-Death Checklist so that you can be sure you do not miss a step.
One of the first things you will likely be asked for are letters of administration. They are required to have access to your loved ones accounts and other assets. But what exactly are these legal documents? And how can you obtain them to begin handling your loved one’s estate?
Here’s a step-by-step guide to letters of administration in Florida.
What Are Letters of Administration?
Letters of administration are sometimes referred to as “letters testamentary.” They are official documents filed by a probate judge, which authorize a person (a “personal representative”) to act on behalf of an estate. If an account has no beneficiary, financial institutions and insurance companies will not release information about the decedent to the family without this court order.
Letters of administration in Florida are essential in probate court. They are issued as part of the formal administration process. Once a personal representative is designated, the assets of an estate can be distributed among its heirs. Additionally, any outstanding debts and tax-related matters can be handled.
A Personal Representative Might Need Letters of Administration to:
- Open or access a bank account on behalf of the estate
- Cancel utilities
- Obtain copies of creditor statements.
- File tax returns with the IRS
- Gather all estate assets
- Transfer any property titles
- Distribute estate assets to the beneficiaries
- Close subscriptions or social media accounts
How to Obtain Letters of Administration in Florida
It’s important to act quickly in Florida if your family member’s estate will need formal administration. Under Florida probate law, an original copy of the decedent’s will must be filed with the local circuit court clerk within 10 days of the known death.
Because there are strict timelines related to probate, hiring an attorney who specializes in estate administration is crucial. And letters of administration in Florida cannot be obtained without an attorney.
If you know you are named personal representative of an estate in a loved one’s will, there is no need to wait on the following steps before the probate process begins.
- Consider appointing a curator. If you are concerned about any damage to the estate’s assets or property prior to probate, notify the court. They can appoint a curator to protect assets until the letters of administration are filed.
- Hire a probate attorney. As stated above, letters of administration cannot be obtained without an attorney. Their services are required in a formal administration of an estate, except for in a few rare cases (such as when the personal representative is a licensed Florida attorney).
- Determine the assets. Obtaining a Last Will and Testament and creating a list of all known assets is a key step that will affect the probate process.
Opening the Estate
Once an attorney has been hired and the Will reviewed, it’s time to open the estate. Here are the steps to do so:
- The attorney will file a petition with the court to open the estate. The petition requests that the court confirm the validity of both the designated personal representative and the Will.
- Proof of the decedent’s death, such as a death certificate, must be filed. The timeline for this depends on the type of administration for the estate in question.
- A notarized, sworn oath of office must be filed.
- A resident agent must be designated.
- The personal representative must furnish a bond – if the court requires it.
- A notice to any surviving heirs/family of the decedent who have claim on the estate must be served.
- The attorney presents a proposed order to the probate judge, in addition to a draft of the letters of administration.
- If approved, the probate judge grants the letters of administration to the personal representative.
What About Trusts?
What if a decedent created a trust in lieu of a Last Will and Testament? Then the probate process can usually be avoided. But it will depend on the titling of the assets. Letters of administration in Florida are not needed to authorize a successor trustee.
In most cases, they can act on behalf of the trust without any involvement from the courts. But note that any assets outside of the trust may still be subject to probate and require letters of administration.
Are you the personal representative of an estate in Florida? At Haimo Law, we can help walk you through the probate process and protect your assets along the way. The alternative can mean significant taxes, chaos, court, costs, conflict (litigation), and a host of unpleasant and destructive surprises. Call us to get started today at 954-228-3369.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose®
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