By Laurie E. Ohall, Florida Board-certified Elder Law Attorney

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is challenging enough without the added stress of legal and estate matters. If your loved one has passed away in the state of Florida, you might be wondering what your responsibilities will be regarding their last will and testament. This article will serve as a way to guide you through the process of probating a will and offer solutions that can minimize your burden.

Understanding Florida’s Probate Process

The probate process must happen if someone dies without naming a beneficiary on an asset (such as their home or a bank account). If a person dies with a will, the process involves proving the deceased person’s will is valid, identifying and inventorying the deceased person’s property, paying debts and taxes and distributing the remaining property as the will (or state law, if there’s no will) directs. If the person dies without a will, the state of Florida has laws that dictate who gets to serve as executor and who inherits. Regardless, this process can be complex, time-consuming and expensive.

Will This Take Up a Lot of My Time?

The good news is, in many cases, you usually only need to have one meeting with the attorney to begin the probate process, and most often this can be done via Zoom or over the phone. The attorney’s office handles most of the legal and administrative tasks on your behalf. However, the probate process does take anywhere from six months to one year to complete (and assets, such as a home, may not be able to be sold during some of that time).

How an Estate Planning Attorney Can Help:

  1. Advice to avoid probate: Most people are interested in avoiding probate, and many times this can be as easy as making sure that you have beneficiary designations listed on all your financial accounts, including bank accounts. You usually need to ask the bank or credit union to put beneficiaries on your accounts, and this is one asset people typically forget to put a beneficiary on. When it comes to a homestead, some people do an enhanced life estate deed (aka ‘ladybird’ deed), whereas others prefer to use a revocable trust (this will also be the subject of another article at a later date). Finally, another way to avoid probate is to hold title to assets jointly. Which vehicle you use to avoid probate on your house will depend on your goals and comfort level.
  2. If it is too late, and your loved one has not done planning to avoid probate, an attorney will be needed (in most instances) to probate the estate. In most instances, the entire process can be done via phone, email, video conferencing and other digital means to discuss your case, provide advice and keep you updated on the progress. Additionally, most documents related to the probate process can be signed and submitted electronically, and your attorney will help you through this entire process.

Estate planning is a personal matter, and what works for one person may not work for another. It is important to evaluate your assets and individual preferences when deciding how to avoid probate in Florida.

About Laurie Ohall:

Laurie Ohall is a Florida board-certified elder law attorney practicing in Brandon, Florida. She has been practicing law for 30 years and her practice is focused on estate planning, elder law planning and probate. Ohall is licensed to practice law in Florida and Ohio.

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