352.372.1011Gainesville, FL

Gainesville Probate, Trust, and Estate Administration Lawyers

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Probate, the court-supervised process for managing a deceased person’s estate, can be difficult to navigate. An individual who has been named as a personal representative must carry out his or her duties faithfully and can be held liable for mistakes and misdeeds. A probate proceeding can become especially challenging if disputes arise among the beneficiaries or the validity of the will is challenged. During such an emotionally charged time, it helps to have the guidance of an experienced probate and estate administration attorney. 

At White & Crouch, we take the stress out of probate through a combination of trusted advice and objective insights. Well-versed in the rules and customs of the probate courts in North Central Florida, we have an impeccable reputation for providing our clients with caring, efficient service. We routinely represent personal representatives and estate beneficiaries and also work with families when a loved one dies without a will in place. When you work with our legal team, you will have peace of mind, knowing your interests will be protected. 

Is Probate Necessary in Florida? 

Whether or not an estate is required to go through a formal probate proceeding depends on the value of the estate assets. In Florida, there are three types of proceedings for transferring the assets of a deceased person: disposition without administration, summary administration and formal administration.

  • Disposition without Administration -- This is a “no probate” process in which an individual who paid the deceased person’s final expenses (e.g. funeral expenses or costs of the final illness) may be reimbursed from the remaining estate assets. It is only intended for small estates that do not contain real estate, and the remaining assets must either be exempt from creditors claims or less than the final estate expenses.
  • Summary Administration --  Summary probate is an expedited process that is only available if (1) the value of the estate does not exceed $75,000 or (2) the decedent’s death occurred more than 2 years ago (regardless of the size of the estate). The process requires the designated personal representative or any interested party to file a petition for summary administration. If the estate qualifies for summary administration, the court will issue an order releasing the property to the beneficiaries.
  • Formal Administration -- Formal probate is required for estates that exceed $75,000 or if the deceased person has been dead for less than 2 years.

Overview of the Formal Administration Probate Process on Florida

A Formal Administration proceeding is initiated when the individual named as the personal representative (commonly referred to as the executor) files a petition with the probate court requesting to be appointed. The court will issue Letters of Administration -- a legal document authorizing the personal representative to carry out his or her duties.

These include:

  • Notifying the beneficiaries named in the will 
  • Inventorying and appraising estate assets
  • Paying the decedent's debts to creditors
  • Filing the decedent's final income taxes
  • Paying any applicable estate taxes
  • Distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries

It is worth noting that a personal representative is considered a fiduciary, which means that he or she must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries. Additionally, although formal probate is a court-supervised proceeding, a personal representative must be represented by an attorney admitted to practice in Florida, unless there are no other interested parties to the estate.

Finally, when a person dies without a will in place (or “intestate”), a family member, close friend or associate of the decedent must ask the court to be appointed as the estate administrator. The court will hold a hearing, issue Letters of Administration and open the proceeding. An estate administrator has similar duties -- and the same fiduciary obligations -- as a personal representative, however, the estate assets must be managed and distributed according to state law, which gives priority to spouses, children and parents. 

How long does a probate proceeding in Florida take? 

While the duration of a formal probate proceeding depends on factors such as the size of the estate and the type of assets, the process can take between 9 and 18 months. it may take longer, however, if the estate includes real estate or other high-value assets that must be sold.

What is a will contest?

At times, the validity of the will may be questioned in a legal proceeding known as a will contest. The grounds for contesting a will include:

  • The will was improperly executed
  • Lack of testamentary capacity (the person making the will or testator did not have mental capacity)
  • Undue influence (the testator was unduly influenced or coerced into making a will)
  • Fraud or forgery were involved in preparing the will

Because a will contest can become an emotionally charged and expensive court battle, we often recommend that the parties negotiate a settlement. If an agreement cannot be reached, we are fully prepared to litigate the matter. 

Gainesville Probate and Estate Administration Attorneys

White, Crouch & Mills is dedicated to protecting the interests of personal representatives and beneficiaries throughout the probate process. With decades of experience in trusts and estate law, we have a well-earned reputation for providing our clients with first-rate legal representation and superior personal service. If you have been named as the personal representative of a loved one’s estate or have questions about probate, call our office today or fill out a contact form to speak with one of our attorneys. 

From our office in Gainesville, the estate planning firm of White & Crouch, P.A. advises and represents clients in communities throughout Alachua County, Marion County, Levy County, Putnam County, Clay County, Bradford County, Union County and Gilchrist County in North Central Florida. Call us at 352-372-1011 or contact the firm by email to arrange an initial consultation with us today.

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