Understanding the Probate Process: A Helpful Step-by-Step Guide

Despite the necessity of probate and how it relates to estate planning, most people will admit that they do not understand it, or even how it begins. In order to help shed some light on this important legal topic and procedure, our Longwood probate attorneys from Haynes & De Paz, P.A. have prepared a helpful step-by-step probate guide that you can review. Probate can be a complicated situation, so we are only covering the basics for brevity. If you have any additional comments, questions, or concerns, or if you know you want the help of our lawyers for your probate case, please do not hesitate to call us at (888) 252-8754 or use an online contact form to request a free initial consultation.

A typical probate process can be divided into these steps:

  1. Beginning: You must file for a petition for administration and receive Letters of Administration, which let you act as a personal representative of the decedent’s estate during probate. Your lawyer should help you with filing to ensure it is all handled correctly and on-time.
  2. Mail redirect: The decedent may still be receiving important letters and notification through traditional mail. You can use the Letters of Administration at the post office to approve a change of address, redirecting all mail to the address of your choosing.
  3. Tax ID: Create a specialized estate account at your bank to better handle the probate process without complicating matters with your own finances. You need to receive a taxpayer identification number (TIN) for this step.
  4. Asset management: All of the decedent’s assets are technically under your watch during probate. You must catalogue them all and manage them responsibly. You might be required to sell assets, make investments, pay expenses, and so forth, all under the name of the estate. This step is far simpler if you have a probate attorney working on your side.
  5. Cataloguing: The assets within the estate need to be catalogued and kept in an inventory account. This will allow interested parties to know what is kept within the estate and the value of property on the date of the decedent’s passing.
  6. Accounting: It is possible for expenses to still be accrued by an estate in probate. It is your role as the administrator to keep receipts for expenses. Failure to do so could make you liable for any discrepancies found during probate.
  7. Creditor notification: You have to make an honest effort to identify all creditors and lenders with interests in the decedent’s estate and notify them of their passing. Once identified, you can use the estate to pay off debts, tell the creditor you intend to pay off the debts when or if possible, or notify the creditor that they must file a claim to the debt with the estate.
  8. Tax filings: A final tax filing will most likely need to be managed on behalf of the decedent. It is unusual for a probate attorney to complete the tax filing for the individual decedent. You may want to locate a tax specialist for help with this step, or ask your lawyer if they have any recommendations.
  9. Estate tax: Your probate lawyer may be able to help you with the estate tax return, which must be filed if the estate’s total taxable value is greater than $5,340,000 (circa 2018 in Florida).
  10. Distributing assets: It is not until expenses are paid and all other duties are met that you can begin distributing assets and inheritances to beneficiaries named in the will. Distribution can be intricate if there are many beneficiaries, high-value assets, or heavy taxes on certain items. It is recommended you allow your probate attorney to closely manage or oversee this step in the probate process.
  11. Closure: The court will review your work as the administrator of the estate to determine if you have completed all expected duties, or fiduciary responsibilities. All throughout the probate process, you are expected to give your best, honest effort to manage it appropriately, pay debts accordingly, and otherwise protect the assets of the estate. If there is proof that you have done your fiduciary duties, the court will relieve you by closing the estate, marking the last step of the process overall.

Remember: You can always rely on Haynes & De Paz, P.A. and our probate lawyers in Orlando, Miami, and four other office locations for assistance. Contact us today to get our help.