Many have heard of the term “probate” as a court process required after someone dies. Probate may be necessary to identify and gather the assets of a decedent, pay the decedent’s debts, and distribute the decedent’s assets to the beneficiaries or heirs. However, it is not always required.
If the property you own is held in a trust, jointly owned or has a beneficiary designated, probate can be avoided. There are several other steps that can be taken to avoid the cost of probate. The probate process can be a long and expensive process that can last months or even years. If property is owned in other states, probate cases in each state may likely be required.
Many think they can avoid probate by showing people a copy of the decedents’ will. However, a last will and testament is for the purpose of passing ownership in probate only. The will has no effect until it is admitted to probate by a judge. If the decedent had no will, probate is necessary to pass ownership of the decedent’s probate assets to those persons who are to receive them under Florida law. In some cases, probate may be opened solely for the purpose of pursuing a wrongful death claim.
Also, probate may be opened to identify all creditors and follow the procedures for notifying them whether or not there are assets to pay the debts. This process will bar the creditors from pursuing claims at a later date.
In sum, if you believe you must open a probate, clearly identify the reasons. Probate is not a step required to be taken after the death of a loved one. In fact, proper planning can often avoid this expensive process entirely.