Probate is the process by which the court supervises a deceased individual’s estate administration. This involves paying his or her debts, gathering assets and distributing those assets as indicated in the person’s will.

Each state has its own laws for probate. When planning your estate, understand the regulations that apply to Florida-based estates.

Assets subject to probate

Only certain types of property go through the Florida probate process. This includes assets the deceased individual owned alone without a co-owner as well as assets with co-owners that do not have a clear succession plan, such as when the person dies without a will. Common examples of assets exempt from probate include:

  • Real estate the person owned with a surviving spouse
  • Life insurance and retirement accounts that have named beneficiaries other than the person’s estate
  • Investment or bank accounts that are payable on death to a specific beneficiary other than the person’s estate
  • Any assets in a living trust

Summary administration

This alternative to probate is available when the person’s estate totals less than $75,000 in probate assets, or if his or her death occurred more than two years ago. Any named executor or beneficiary can start this process in Florida by filing a Petition for Summary Administration, which the person’s surviving spouse must sign, if applicable. If the estate qualifies, the court issues a court order that releases the estate assets to the appropriate beneficiaries.

Formal probate

With this process, the executor or another family member asks that the court name him or her as the estate’s personal representative. The court will notify beneficiaries and heirs and determine whether the will is valid, then issue Letters of Administration that allow the personal representative to settle the estate by paying debts and gathering and distributing assets.

The probate process ends with a full accounting by the executor of how he or she distributed the estate. Benefactors and other interested parties receive the chance to object. In general, probate may take six to 12 months, depending on the complexity of the circumstances.