What Does the Probate Process Look Like?

When an estate enters probate, the process can look different for each case. Factors like the number of assets, the form of the estate (will vs. an unfinished trust, etc.), and how much the personal representative to the estate has in order can change what the process looks like.

We often hear from clients who want to know the exact timeline for how long an estate will take to get through probate, but it’s hard to generalize. The courts and the estate at hand will dictate the timeline, and right now courts are still dealing with backlogs that are slowing certain cases more than they normally would. Instead of trying to nail down a timeline, it’s best to look at what the process itself looks like.

Appointing a personal representative

The first step of this process is officially appointing the personal representative (often referred to as an executor in other states) to an estate. It’s likely the estate already details who the personal representative of choice is, but the courts will verify this information first.

To verify, the court will make sure the information in the estate is accurate and filed correctly. Then, the court will investigate if there are any objections to the assignment of the personal representative. If no objection is present then the court will appoint them and issue letters of administration without a hearing.

If there is a dispute then it will prolong the process. The judge will need to sift through the dispute and make sure the correct personal representative is present for the case.

Filing notice for creditors’ claims

Once the personal representative is in place, creditors must be notified of the execution of the estate. All creditors who may have an interest in the state must be given notice.

At this point, a 90-day window opens up. During that 90-day period, creditors will have an opportunity to make a claim against the estate for any unpaid debts. As with the previous step, if there are no claims then the process can move quickly.

If there are claims, then they must be addressed and remedied before the remainder of the estate can be taken care of. Each claim will need to either be stricken, excluded, or settled. The more claims, the longer and more expensive the process can become.

Petition for distribution

Once the estate is clear of all creditor claims then the personal representative will file a petition for distribution. This petition will request that the estate be administered as requested in estate documents or consistent with intestate law if the estate doesn’t have the necessary documentation.

This process brings forth the opportunity for anyone who has a legitimate interest in the estate to file a claim. It’s important to note that these claims can’t just come from anyone. Only those who have a specific and legitimate interest in the estate can file claims – including those who are named in the estate, those who have formerly been named in the estate, or those who are direct heirs of the estate but aren’t mentioned.

Receive a discharge from the court

Once creditors and interested parties have had their claims addressed, the final step is a discharge of the estate. This step is mostly administrative but wraps up the estate entirely. When an estate receives a discharge from the court, the role of the personal representative is no longer necessary.

The probate process can be complicated, especially when the estate doesn’t have the required documentation and/or if there are claims against the estate. You can certainly try to go through this process without an attorney, but this exposes you to significant risk. Instead, contact the Law Offices of Ray Garcia. Our team has the experience and expertise in Florida estate planning law and can protect your prosperity.