As an Heir, How Do I Stay Informed of What Is Happening in the Probate Case?
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
May 18, 2015
HAIMO: Generally beneficiaries—either designated by will or statute—will be notified and kept informed of the status of proceedings because most actions in probate require notification of the beneficiaries of such action.
Probate is the court-supervised legal process of settling the estate of a deceased individual. During the process, assets are identified, gathered, and distributed to heirs or beneficiaries according to the will or—if there is no valid will—according to Florida statute.
During the probate case, you typically have to file court forms and go to court in order to:
Prove the validity of the will. If the recently deceased individual left behind a will, you may have to go to court in order to prove that the will is valid. If the will has been properly drafted and executed, this should be a routine procedure.
Appoint a legal representative. If there is a will, the individual who has been designated as personal representative will be appointed as such by the court. As a personal representative, this individual will be responsible for managing the distribution of assets and settling of the estate. If there is no will, or the will does not specify a personal representative, or the individual who has been designated as a is unwilling or unable to serve, the court may appoint a personal representative to serve in that capacity. Typically, this will be a close living relative or a beneficiary.
Identify and inventory property. The personal representative will identify, collect, and appraise all assets and property left behind by the deceased (referred to as the decedent). During this step, the personal representative may pay debts and file taxes—sometimes by selling real estate, securities, or other properties. This is a complex process that can take months or even years.
Distribute assets. After all taxes and debts have been paid, the personal representative will file an inventory and accounting with the court that accounts for all income received and payments made during the process of settling the estate. Then, the court will authorize the personal representative to distribute the remaining assets to the rightful heirs.
If you have been named as an heir or beneficiary to the estate—either by the will or by Florida statute—you will automatically receive notice of certain actions for the probate case. As an heir, you have a right to be notified of the petition filed for the personal representative, the petition for closing and distribution of the estate, and a petition for selling any assets or property. Before beginning the process of settling the estate, the personal representative should obtain your name and contact information in order to send you certified copies of documents.
The process of settling an estate in Florida is long and often complicated, so it’s highly advisable to seek guidance from an experienced probate attorney. Your attorney can assist you in filing documents, inventorying assets, paying debts, and distributing the estate in a manner that is timely and compliant with the law. He or she can guide you through the process and also ensure you and your family’s interests are protected, and work to keep your inheritance out of the hands of creditors and tax collectors.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
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