Sarasota Probate Lawyers

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In Florida, most estates need to pass through probate. However, there are circumstances that may make it possible for families to avoid the probate process. Our probate attorneys understand how intimidating probate can be. However, those hoping to pass ownership of a decedent’s assets to their intended heirs may require the legal guidance and support of our highly experienced Sarasota probate lawyers with Luhrsen Goldberg. 

With our life and estate planning law firm advocating for our clients and helping them understand how probate works, having a case admitted to probate court does not need to limit their inheritance or make it impossible to access the assets they are entitled to. Contact our law office to request a confidential consultation today and learn more about how probate works in Florida, ways to avoid having an estate go through probate, and what to expect next.

Over 100,000 New Cases are filed in Probate Court Divisions Annually

There were a total of 161,142 probate filings in the fiscal year 2021-2022 and 147,564 dispositions in all state Circuit courts. From July 2021 to June 2022, a total of 83,459 probate cases were filed according to the Florida Office of the State Courts Administrator Circuit Probate Overview. This includes four different categories of cases handled by probate court divisions, including:

  • Guardianship – This includes both minor and adult guardianship cases
  • Commitment acts – This includes claims filed under the Substance Abuse Act or the Baker Act
  • Notice of Trusts – This includes all trust filings
  • Probate – This includes probate administration and other types of social cases, such as Adult Protective Services Act claims and developmental disability cases

With so many new probate cases filed annually, it is important to get cases on the docket quickly to resolve the probate process sooner and grant beneficiaries access to their intended assets. A skilled probate attorney from Luhrsen Goldberg can help guide families and designated personal representatives through the process, making probate simpler and less stressful for all involved parties.

What is Probate?

Probate is a legal process that is often necessary when an individual passes away with or without a will according to Florida Statutes Chapter 733. This court-supervised procedure is designed to identify and collect the decedent’s assets, pay off the decedent’s creditors and debts, and distribute the decedent’s assets to their designated beneficiaries.

Our probate lawyers step in and help families navigate this process, expedite paying off creditors, and work tirelessly to get beneficiaries the assets that are rightfully theirs. Generally, if a person dies with a will, they will name their personal representative, also sometimes called the executor, of their estate. This is the individual or entity responsible for the management and administration of the decedent’s probate estate.

The Probate Process Does Not Need to Be Intimidating 

Once personal representatives and surviving family members understand how probate works, the process does not need to be overwhelming or intimidating. Our probate administration attorneys prepare our clients accordingly for every step of the probate process, which usually includes:

  • Filing the decedent’s will and death certificate with the circuit court
  • Collecting evidence of assets, including bank statements and invoices
  • Obtaining information regarding the decedent’s debts
  • Safeguarding the decedent’s probate assets for potential heirs
  • Filing the petition for probate administration
  • Publishing the “Notice to Creditors” in a local newspaper gives creditors the opportunity to file a claim against the decedent’s estate via probate 
  • Issuing actual “notice of administration” to known creditors
  • Issuing letters of administration and sending copies to beneficiaries, creditors, or anyone else who may have an interest in the decedent’s estate

Once the probate process has been initiated, the personal representative will be responsible for defending suits and objecting to creditor claims where necessary. They will be responsible for paying creditors as described by valid claims filed, filing the decedent’s tax return, and paying taxes as necessary. Once expenses have been paid for administering the decedent’s probate estate, statutory amounts can be paid to the decedent’s surviving spouse, children, or other relevant family members and beneficiaries. Once these tasks have been completed, the probate estate can be closed.

Important Probate Details in Sarasota You Need to Know

Personal representatives have many responsibilities throughout the probate process. Working with a probate administration attorney is often the best way to ensure personal representatives understand these responsibilities and manage the decedent’s estate accordingly.

A Notice to Creditors

Personal representatives are tasked with paying the decedent’s debts using the assets contained within the decedent’s estate. This might include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Credit card debt
  • Mortgage payments
  • Medical expenses
  • Other miscellaneous debts

With help from a dedicated probate lawyer, the personal representative will need to send a notice to creditors.  There are two types of Creditors in a probate administration: (1) known or reasonably ascertainable creditors; and (2) unknown creditors.  Known creditors must receive actual notice and will have thirty days to file a claim upon receipt of said notice.  Notice to unknown creditors is achieved by publishing a notice in a local newspaper which has common and frequent circulation.  Upon publication of the notice in a local newspaper, unknown Creditors will then have up to three months from the publication of a notice of administration. Florida Statutes 733.701-733.710.  If creditors do not file a claim within the specified timeframes, they may lose their right to recover the debt.

Identifying and Securing Assets

Our wills and probate lawyers help personal representatives identify and secure the decedent’s assets. Our team aids personal representatives in compiling a list of the assets contained within the probate of state. This is known as “inventory”. Our team can hire experts and appraisers to obtain the value of these assets.

Tax Filings and Estate Management 

The personal representative will be responsible for handling all tax filings and returns for the decedent’s estate as described by Florida Statutes 733.601-733.620. The personal representative will need to have the decedent’s income tax and estate tax returns filed where appropriate. They will also be responsible for filing tax returns in subsequent years if the decedent’s estate continues earning income on estate assets after their death. 

They will also be responsible for managing these assets until they are distributed to beneficiaries. This might include using the decedent’s estate to cover utility expenses, mortgage payments, and other ongoing expenses.

Liquidating the Decedent’s Estate

Once the personal representative has gathered the decedent’s assets and the creditor claim period has expired, they can begin liquidating the decedent’s estate. A knowledgeable probate attorney from our firm can guide the personal representative through this process, ensuring experts, the personal representative’s attorney, and the personal representative are compensated for their services. 

Then, creditor claims can be paid from the decedent’s non-exempt estate assets. Once creditors have been repaid, any remaining assets are distributed among beneficiaries as described in the decedent’s will.

Closing the Probate Proceedings 

Only after all creditors have been paid and assets have been distributed to beneficiaries can the probate proceedings close. The decedent’s personal representative will need to request that the court close the probate proceedings and discharge the personal representative under Florida Statutes 733.901-733.903. This will release them from any additional responsibilities that come with administering the decedent’s probate estate.

Probate With a Valid Will

When the decedent has a valid will, the judge presiding over the probate case will appoint the personal representative as designated by the decedent in their will. However, this is true only as long as the named party is qualified to serve in this role. 

Our wills and probate attorneys can review the circumstances of each case to determine whether the designated personal representative meets the qualifying requirements. Anyone who is under the age of 18, mentally or physically incapacitated, or a convicted felon is not considered qualified to act as the decedent’s personal representative according to Florida Statute 733.3101.

Probate Without a Valid Will

In the event the decedent did not have a valid will, families may be unsure of how the estate will be handled. Working with a wills and probate lawyer can ensure the appropriate party is designated the personal representative. Generally, the decedent’s surviving spouse will have the priority to serve as the decedent’s personal representative under 2023 Florida Statute Chapter 732.

However, if the decedent was not married or the surviving spouse declined the opportunity to serve as personal representative, an individual or entity selected by the majority of those who have an interest in the decedent’s estate will have the right to be appointed personal representative. This often means heirs can work together to appoint a personal representative. If beneficiaries cannot agree to a selected personal representative, the judge presiding has the authority to appoint one during a hearing.

About Personal Representatives in Sarasota Probate Cases

Our probation administration lawyers are frequently asked about personal representative responsibilities and qualifications in Sarasota probate cases. Unless someone is a Florida state resident, they will not be able to qualify as a personal representative unless they are:

  • Related to the decedent by lineal consanguinity, such as an aunt, uncle, brother, sister, niece, nephew, or spouse
  • The spouse of someone related by lineal consanguinity
  • The adoptive parent or child of the deceased

How the Personal Representative Will Be Compensated

An estate probate lawyer can ensure personal representatives are compensated fairly for their services. According to Florida Statute Section 733.617, personal representatives may be entitled to 3% of the deceased’s estate, but this could be increased depending on the individual circumstances at hand.

What is the Personal Representative’s Attorney Paid?

The personal representative may need to hire an attorney. This legal advocate is entitled to compensation for their services under Florida Statute Section 733.6171. For small estates, legal fees can start at $1,500. For estates valued at over $1 million, attorney’s fees can be ascertained using a sliding percentage scale starting at 3%, with additional compensation appropriate for extraordinary services.

Sarasota Probate FAQ

Working through the probate process can be complex. When families lose a loved one, dealing with probate can make it more challenging to mourn their loss and get back to their lives. However, once they understand what to expect from probate, it could make it easier to navigate the process, manage expectations, and finalize the decedent’s estate sooner. 

To that end, many of our clients have reported having numerous questions about Florida probate law. We have compiled a brief FAQ below, answering some of the most frequently asked questions regarding probate and estate planning. Any additional questions we did not cover here can be discussed during a confidential case evaluation with a dedicated probate administration lawyer from Luhrsen Goldberg. 

How Long Will It Take to Settle the Decedent’s Estate?

It will generally take at least a few months to move a decedent’s estate through probate. However, between the administration and management of the estate, it could be six months or longer. If the personal representative needs to challenge the validity of the creditor’s claims, the will itself, or sell assets, the probate process will likely take longer.

Is There a Probate Filing Deadline?

After the decedent has passed away, there is no probate filing deadline. However, the personal representative has a fiduciary obligation to the decedent, beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate, and creditors to begin the probate process in a timely manner under Florida Statute 733.402. Our estate probate lawyers ensure our clients uphold their fiduciary duty. 

This can help personal representatives avoid facing accusations of a breach of fiduciary duty, particularly if the value of the decedent’s estate assets is diminished due to the personal representative’s failure to initiate the probate process soon enough. This often occurs when creditors attempt to take action against the decedent’s assets.

How Long Does an Executor Have to Settle an Estate in Florida?

According to Florida Statute Chapter 735, personal representatives have up to one year to distribute the decedent’s estate to the intended beneficiaries. This could be done once all creditor claims against the decedent’s estate have been settled. If there is no will, the personal representative can distribute assets based on Florida intestacy laws.

What Assets Do Not Pass Through Probate in Florida?

Certain types of assets do not pass through probate in Florida. When families or personal representatives are unsure of which assets should be put through the probate process, an experienced estate probate attorney can offer guidance and support. Some of the most common assets that can avoid probate include:

  • Assets in the decedent’s primary residence
  • Designated beneficiaries’ assets
  • Florida homestead property
  • Furniture and appliances
  • Joint accounts
  • Revocable trust
  • Tenancy by entireties
  • Transfer on death accounts
  • Tuition programs
  • Vehicles

Connect With Sarasota’s Top-Rated Probate Law Firm for Help

Our compassionate and knowledgeable Sarasota estate probate attorneys from Luhrsen Goldberg have extensive experience helping families through the probate process. We will do everything in our power to avoid going through probate. However, if going through probate is necessary, our team will do what it takes to make the process as quick and easy as possible. 

We are also prepared to help families select personal representatives and offer insight into what responsibilities these personal representatives may have going forward. Luhrsen Goldberg offers confidential consultations to families across Sarasota and Sarasota County. Take advantage of this opportunity by completing our secured contact form or calling our law office today.